Jimmy Butler

A championship team? How about a team about to lose a first round series with home court advantage for the second time in three seasons. The Chicago Bulls looked like a team that can win the East due to the weakness of the perceived two favorites, but two close losses to the Washington Wizards have changed that notion in most people’s minds. But a team that relies on defense and effort, not on hot shooting or a certain player getting hot, can’t be counted out, when the talent gaps aren’t that big if they’re there at all.

My friend Greg usually handles most NBA things big and small. I don’t think he has too much faith left in the Bulls turning things around. But strange things have happened in postseasons, and the Bulls are the kind of team that doesn’t seem broken by what would have done the same to others, even better sides. Like the Indiana Pacers for example. That team has talent, defense, depth, and everything seems crashing to the ground, and no one has been able to fix the leak that has let all their ability and confidence run out.

Trying to point a finger at something the Bulls are doing wrong brings us to their defense of all places. Bradley Beal managed to get away from Jimmy Butler too many times in a fourth quarter that the Bulls lost a big lead in for a second consecutive game. Generally, letting teams go for mid-range to long jumpers, semi-contested, instead of partying in the paint, is a good idea. But it hasn’t been working for Chicago, because Nene has been doing a tremendous job against Noah, while the Bulls haven’t been attacking the screens or switching aggressively enough.

Playing harder, stronger, better, with more focus and effort isn’t about adjustments. It’s about the players simply doing that, and the head coach not relenting until he does see that, although it’s not like Thibodeau has too many options right now. Another change is about switching defensive roles and pairings. Maybe more Taj Gibson on the floor, especially on Nene. Maybe a different approach on the screens. Maybe doing a better job of keeping the ball out of certain players’ hands.

The Bulls are in trouble, although not feeling the kind of pressure the Rockets are due to the expectations and the overall perception of Thibs as a head coach. Yet it’s something they can get out of. The Wizards are a very good team with the options to score inside and outside, but they’re not explosive, and have had more bad minutes than good ones so far in the series. So often game 3 turns out to be the most important one in the series. It certainly is for the Bulls in this one, and there should be optimism about their ability to change the momentum of this series.

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