Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson are gathering their thoughts after another Bulls loss to the Heat.
For the Chicago Bulls, their second round performance so far is uneven at best. Injuries are beginning to take a toll on them.
First, Kirk Hinrich injured his calf during the Bulls epic triple-overtime game versus the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1. That was followed by a rash of flu that ravaged through several players. One of the more memorable scenes of the playoffs was the image of Bulls’ guard Nate Robinson vomiting on the sideline.
The next casualty was Luol Deng.
The All-Star forward became ill before Game 6 of Round 1 and has yet to return.
In the second round, the Bulls have had to play the Miami Heat without Hinrich and Deng. Two of their best players out and an additional two, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, are hobbled with foot and leg injuries.
Grading performances of the Bulls players against the Heat at this juncture is difficult due to the amount of healthy bodies they have. Given the circumstances, two star pupils have stood above the rest of the team.
During Round 2 off the NBA playoffs, there have been several Bulls players who have received little or no playing time. This is the result of Bulls’ head coach Tom Thibodeau using a tight rotation in the postseason. Thibodeau has played seven to eight players regularly against the Heat.
Of those who have sat, one player is a savvy veteran that could have helped with the scoring load, another would have been vital in floor spacing, and another could not find his shooting touch.
And for one Bull, the opportunity has not been available to gain vital experience.
Malcolm Thomas: C
This is the case for Malcolm Thomas. During garbage-time, the second-year forward has made two appearances. This may help him as his career progresses, but with several bodies out, it was alarming that he did not receive at least a sparing minute or two of meaningful playing time.
Vladimir Radmanovic: D
The well-traveled Radmanovic can rebound and stretch the Heat’s defense with his corner three-point shot. Why he has not played much is a mystery. Aside from his nine-point performance in Game 2, he has been a spectator. Coach Thibodeau should have found some use for him.
Daequan Cook: D
In three games versus the Heat, Cook has played a collective of 29 minutes. He has missed all seven of his shot attempts. It is quite possible that he still has not adjusted to the team, but his contributions have been minimal.
Richard Hamilton: D
This grade has more to do with Coach Thibodeau and less to do with Hamilton. In Hamilton’s case, his only meaningful playing time came in Game 4. How did the veteran respond? With 11 points, four assists and a plus/minus of -2, the highest of any Bulls player that played 15 or more minutes.
Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich cannot be graded. Their injuries have dealt the Bulls a mighty blow. After watching the Heat take a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series, it is easy to think about what a better matchup it would have been.
If both or either player were healthy, the series could be tied or the Bulls could have a lead.
It is difficult not to think about the what-if scenarios that this Bulls-Heat pairing brings to mind.
Imagine the impact that Deng and Hinrich could have provided. They both bring an acute sense of calm when they are on the floor.
What if a rehabbing Derrick Rose had returned, giving the Bulls a leg up against the defending champion Miami Heat?
Those situations would have a direct effect on how Coach Thibodeau manages the team.
We are only able to ponder. The only grade worth giving is an incomplete.
Mohammed was supposed to bring rebounding and interior toughness. Unfortunately, he did not play enough to justify his billing.
Consider his statistics from the second round: 3.0 points, 1.5 rebounds and .25 ejections per game.
The most notable thing that Mohammed accomplished was his ejection for shoving LeBron James in Game 3. Doing that endeared him to the Bulls’ fans, but as result, the team was dealt an additional disadvantage.
For a team that was only using eight players, losing another player was damaging.
Grading Teague is tough. On one hand, you have to consider his mental preparedness. The Heat have been able to rattle the rookie on more than one occasion. While he has made a few mistakes, he has not hurt the Bulls.
Once you take a look at his errors, especially when Miami has trapped him defensively with the ball in his hands, you must think about how little he played in the regular season.
Teague needed some playing time to further develop his game in the event that he was thrust into action. Imagine if he got his valuable experience before the playoffs.
More was expected from Taj Gibson than what he has provided. His performance against Miami makes you wonder about the overall health of the Bulls super-sub.
If Gibson is not getting into early foul trouble, then it is his jump shot that is failing in the second round. The struggles have always come when the Heat have center Chris Anderson in the game.
Anderson’s length is constantly bothering the Bulls bigs and Gibson is no exception.
Take Anderson’s block of Gibson’s dunk late in Game 4, for example. Gibson receives a pass and he proceeds to attempt a dunk. Anderson meets Gibson and denies the seemingly easy two points.
The block silenced the United Center crowd.
Just when you thought it was safe to love Carlos Boozer, something (the length of Chris Bosh) stands in the way.
If there is a blueprint on how to stop Boozer, the Heat have it. Miami keeps packing the lane, making it difficult for Boozer to get a rhythm going.
His best game was Game 3 when he scored 21 points. While the offense was timely, the much-maligned power forward only grabbed four measly boards. That is not acceptable.
Going forward, Boozer must use his size to gain post position so that the Bulls can extend the series.
It is safe to say that Nate Robinson is tiring out. He has never been a full-time starter at any point in his career. The minutes that he has played keep adding up as he is looked upon to carry the lion’s share of the time at point guard.
The shots are not falling the way that they were for Robinson, and it is evident that he is beginning to question himself during games. This is after several heroic moments in the playoffs.
Robinson must remember what put him in the position that he is in, and allow the game to come to him.
Marco Belinelli continues to impress as the playoffs move onward. Although his shot has been streaky, many of his points come at key moments. In the fourth quarter of Game 1, it was his three-pointer that sustained a Bulls’ run that eventually led to a 93-86 win.
Against Miami, Belinelli is shooting only 33 percent from the field.
That is the downside.
On the upswing, no one is talking about Belinelli’s spectacular defensive performance on the Heat’s Dwyane Wade. The Miami superstar has not scored more than 15 points in any game of the series, because Belinelli has been denying him the ball.
Jimmy Butler is the real Iron Man if you ask the panel of ESPN’s Numbers Never Lie.
Jimmy Butler has now played 148:28 consecutive minutes in the playoffs stretching back to Game 5 vs the Nets. #realironman— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) May 7, 2013
After playing in all but 19 minutes of the series, can we praise Butler enough?
The defensive job that Butler has done against LeBron James is remarkable.
No one player can stop LeBron, but Butler makes it tough for him to score.
The second-year swingman has stayed with LeBron stride for stride. He has consistently contested shots, while altering others, and even forces the four-time MVP into making uncharacteristic turnovers.
Butler’s offense is still a ways away, but it is improving. Just as Butler is guarding LeBron, LeBron has the task of defending Butler. The fact that Butler is averaging 14.8 points in the series is a testimony to his rapid growth.
If Joakim Noah is dealing with plantar fasciitis we are unaware of it. The painful foot injury is not slowing him down.
Take away Noah’s three technical fouls in the series and you will notice that he a playing great against Miami. He is averaging a near double-double with 11.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in the four games. Of the Bulls players, he and Jimmy Butler have played with the most consistency.
Noah is doing what he can on defense, guarding every position on the floor from center to point guard.
If Noah is hurt while playing exceptional basketball, it is easy to imagine how well he would perform if he were healthy. Just by being out on the basketball court is enough for a favorable grade.