It's been a long, hard fall for Bulls
Injuries to key players have depleted bench, playoff chances
If they timed it right, Bulls fans flipping between the Chicago-Orlando game Thursday night on TNT and an Adam Sandler movie on TBS, and maybe a little college basketball on the side, were no doubt startled by the sight of the franchise crumbling before them.
And no, this is not to imply that the organization took a momentous hit with the team's sixth loss in a row, a 111-82 pasting by the Orlando Magic. Rather, we are speaking of guard Derrick Rose bouncing off the floor once again after another drive and hard foul -- this time by big, mean Dwight Howard, who happens to be a pretty nice guy who actually likes Rose and really, considering the Magic were already up by 11 and not exactly being threatened, didn't have to try any harder to intimidate.
Fortunately, an MRI on Friday morning confirmed that Rose's resulting wrist injury is merely a sprain, and he is listed as day-to-day.
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro was presumably kidding the other day when he said that with the shortage of bodies, he may have to bring Lindsey Hunter and Randy Brown out of retirement. But he may want to seriously consider adding a few members of the broadcasting team as well, because if the loss to the Magic was an embarrassment to TNT, which switched back to studio banter in the third quarter, the Dallas game in a few days could be epic.
At the very least, with four of the next five games on the road and the fifth against Cleveland, that six-game losing streak is sure to grow.
So, how much does it matter?
For many reasons, it doesn't. This is not Del Negro using Kirk Hinrich's past injuries as an excuse for the team's lack of cohesiveness. This is playing without Joakim Noah, whose rebounding, high energy, double-doubles and ability to trigger the transition game can't be replaced by one player, if at all.
Less than two weeks ago, the Bulls were four games over .500. They had established themselves during that terrific five-win January road swing as a viable playoff team with perhaps two future All-Stars. The trade of Tyrus Thomas and John Salmons for Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick looked like a positive in all respects as the Bulls cleared valuable salary cap space.
Being scary to watch right now does not change any of that -- except, of course, the playoff component.
One could even argue that missing the playoffs might not be so terrible because Noah and his plantar fasciitis wouldn't be forced back into action and Rose could learn how to protect himself. Given that the wrist should be fine and he's still young, it's easy not to take too seriously Rose's penchant for hurtling himself into much bigger bodies than himself and bouncing off the court. But even Howard remarked after Thursday's game that Rose needs to learn how to control his landings -- one foot, two feet, whatever, just not a hip, a wrist or a head.
Thursday's hard foul looked a lot like the collision between the two on Feb. 10 at the United Center, in which Rose made contact with an airborne Howard and came away with a hip injury.
"I don't even think Dwight fouled him," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said after the game. "I think Rose fouled Dwight. He pushed off. But regardless, Derrick goes in there with such unbelievable force that it was the same as the other night. He's going full speed and he's hitting basically an immovable object and he lands tough. I really feel bad."
So did Howard, though an unofficial survey in the Magic locker room backed up the idea that penetrating guards like Rose need to learn how to fall.
"It's one thing you've got to learn," Orlando's Jameer Nelson told the Orlando Sentinel. "You go in there as a guard to big men; they're not necessarily trying to knock you down, but they're so big, if you go in there off-balance, you're on the ground next."
Bulls coaches have also been urging Rose, even at 6-foot-3, to post up a little more against the little guards. It's something every guard learns eventually, that and the fadeaway jumper, both of which he is certainly capable of mastering, and likely will.
In the meantime, Rose's teammates, shrinking a group as it is, must continue to at least pretend they are competing for a playoff spot and for those of you who couldn't stay with TNT or fell into a coma trying, there was definitely evidence of some effort from the Bulls in the second half Thursday night.
Even without your best players, you can chase down loose balls and play as if it matters. Even without favorable matchups, good defense is possible. Especially now, with young players on the floor, no one should discount the importance of consistent, professional play; nor should Del Negro.
The postseason, highly unlikely at this point, would still be nice. Though last year's first-round results against a Kevin Garnett-less Boston team was no doubt overvalued, the Bulls could have been headed to a No. 5 seed before this recent injury plague, and with a little imagination, one could have envisioned a victorious first-round matchup against Atlanta.
Losing is not going to affect what happens in free agency this summer. But it can still be habit-forming and hazardous to a team's overall health.
Kind of like bouncing off Dwight Howard.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.