Two years ago, the Chicago Bulls roster was a vanguard roster with new plates and spinning rims. However, as the rest of the league began selling out for All-Stars since the 2011 Eastern Conference Championship, the Bulls went into thrift store mode and auctioned off some of their best assets. The original Bench Mob led by C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver was discontinued and sent to the chop shop.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets invested in their roster like it was a private jet, and the Miami Heat’s space shuttle left the league in its rear view mirror by winning two consecutive titles.
Per tradition, Lamborghini has named every one of its cars after a famous Bull, but there won't be any red commemorative 2013 Rose's coming off the line anytime soon. Compared to Brooklyn and Miami, Rose’s current supporting cast is a classic Lambo that's been riding on regular unleaded for two years by management that Tom Thibodeau still manages to milk every last mile out of. It may be breaking down before our eyes.
Hybrids are for lottery teams. The Pacers pimped their gas-guzzling Hummer out in the offseason after they nearly drove the Miami Heat’s repeat efforts over the guardrails by shoring up one of the league’s subpar benches with Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson and Luis Scola. It was a surprising move that you wouldn’t expect from a small-market franchise in the age of a restrictive luxury tax that has unintentionally widened the divides between the haves and have-nots. Returning executive Larry Bird purchased the upgrades, but it’s Frank Vogel who’s shifting the gears and steering the wheel like Mario Andretti.
Thibodeau is still getting the same maniacal effort from his guys, but the Bulls pinned much of their title hopes on Jimmy Butler becoming a poor man’s Paul George. Unfortunately, they may have overestimated his offensive potential as the Bulls offense has been forced to catch the bus.
Points were so hard for Chicago to find against Indiana in the second half that their rim gathered cobwebs. After Rose chipped in 12 first half points, the Pacers put a lid on the Bulls basket. Rose looks as spry as ever, but he scored just five points in the second half and is averaging a pedestrian 15 points and 3.8 assists per game thus far.
Heading into the final seven minute stretch, the Bulls led by two, but were outscored 30-11, out-rebounded 12 to 3 and turned the ball over five times while forcing just one from the Pacers.
Maybe it’s unfair to judge Chicago's offense when the fulcrum of their offense has something caught in his gears, but when you eye the difference between the supporting casts of Indiana and Chicago’s stars, it’s hard not to go negative — particularly when one team is getting better, while the other is trying to get back to normal.
The Pacers, already a strong defensive team, look even stronger. There will not be any more questions about whether Roy Hibbert can defend smaller lineups in the closing minutes of a playoff contest (especially after what happened to Popovich in Game 6) if he keeps up his production. When Hibbert is on the court this season, the Pacers allow 76 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off the floor, that number rises to 101.6. Hibbert continued doing big man things and he foreclosed on the Bulls’ post scoring Wednesday night. Chicago’s 14 total points in the paint were their fewest in four years.
It’s not time to panic, but the Bulls are 26th in offensive efficiency, and the collective losses of Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson has sapped their bench of its energy.
Fans who sought to test drive Danny Granger before possibly dealing him for a position of need have been surprised by the production of backup point guards Donald Sloan and Watson. When Granger does return, don’t be surprised if he becomes the offensive spark plug for the second unit.
George has continued improving leaps and bounds on the other end of the floor, averaging 25 per game, and remains a defensive wrecking ball on the perimeter.
Even if Rose wasn’t still trying to find his rhythm, he wouldn’t have been enough against the Pacers stone wall defense. Wednesday night was a playoff preview. The Bulls are currently a one-man show on the offensive end, and eventually that over reliance on hero-ball from their point guard will stall against elite competition. That's not a winning formula.