1. Bulls Left To Renew Case For Strong Defense
LOS ANGELES -- The NBA by its nature is a league populated by stoics, a place where "No Excuses" can be found painted on the walls of practice facilities. So it wasn't a surprise to hear the Chicago Bulls reject any notion that the 121-82 thrashing at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday afternoon had anything to do with Derrick Rose's torn meniscus.
"Injuries are going to happen in this league," Bulls big man Taj Gibson said. "We have to push forward. He's going to do his job and get back healthy. We have to do our job, continue to try to play well and scratch out wins. Right now, there's no feeling sorry for ourselves."
The Bulls' steely head coach Tom Thibodeau isn't prone to expressions of vulnerability and he too deflected the suggestion that the 39-point loss was a team-wide wake for the loss of Rose.
"That's there," Thibodeau said. "We can use that if we choose, but nobody's going to feel sorry for us. We've got enough in that room to get it done. We have to turn it around tomorrow. We have to get ready to play and we have to come out with an edge."
Player after player in the Bulls' locker room sounded the same talking points: Rose was hurt. We all feel sick about it, especially given the year of work Rose put in to recover from his ACL tear, but none of that exonerates us from a performance like this. We've dealt with this before and we're a pretty good team in his absence.
Bulls center Joakim Noah shared some of this sentiment, but, as is often the case, the expressive big man revealed a more truthful glimpse into the psyche of a team that was clearly dejected by Rose's absence.
"We're human," Noah said. "We lost our best player to injury. You say, 'No excuses' and things like that, but this is a tough blow."
The Bulls hung with the Clippers for nearly two quarters, but with a little more than three minutes remaining before halftime, Clippers small forward Jared Dudley found space at the top of the floor beyond the arc and drained one of his four 3-pointers of the game.
"Jared [Dudley] came out on fire and I feel like that set the tone," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "He has really been wrestling with that knee and it's on his mind, so it was good to see him get off to a good start."
The Bulls were so disoriented defensively on the play that Blake Griffin found himself setting a flare screen on exactly nobody to free Dudley -- he didn't need to. Dudley finished with a team-high 21 points.
On the ensuing possession, an advance pass in transition found Griffin in the open court. Griffin drove to the basket and finished at the rim practically carrying Kirk Hinrich on his right shoulder. The and-1 amped up Griffin, the crowd at Staples Center and prompted a Bulls' timeout. From there, the Clippers' 12-point lead ballooned, and the 39-point margin at the final buzzer entered the Clippers' record book as the most lopsided win in franchise history.
Every Clippers starter shot better than 60 percent from the field and each was able to watch the final 14 minutes from the bench, a first this season for a 9-5 team that hasn't enjoyed many blowouts.
The Bulls aren't accustomed to being at the receiving end of such a beating, particularly on the defensive end. They came into Sunday's game as the NBA's third-ranked defense, and Rose's absence shouldn't adversely affect them on that account. It didn't last season when they finished No. 5 in points allowed per possession.
While there's little question that Rose's absence drops the Bulls from potential contender to a team looking up -- probably way up -- at Miami and Indiana in the Eastern Conference, it's reasonable to believe that the Bulls, even without Rose, are still the East's third-best squad. For a team back East, a top-5 defense will likely translate into May basketball.
"This team has already shown it has the capability to be a great defensive team, so I expect that. That wasn't reliant on one person. That's reliant on everybody doing their job."
So long as Thibodeau is presiding over the Bulls' defense, they're unlikely to be a lottery team in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are a supremely professional outfit that places a premium on preparation and mastery of their defensive systems.
That's why calls to push the detonator on the Bulls' roster seem futile. That's not to say the front office in Chicago shouldn't look for opportunities to get out from under outsized contracts or procure draft picks -- propositions they entertained before Rose went down -- but the defensive system in Chicago probably makes the Bulls tank-proof.
Is biding another season waiting for Rose to recover from knee surgery an attractive option for Chicago? No, but that's what there is. Sometimes in the NBA you have to turn purgatory into a temporary residence.
Around The Association
MVP: Xavier Henry continues to be a revelation for the Lakers this season. The fourth-year forward came off the bench to score 21 points in 20 minutes. He chipped in 12 of those points in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers took firm control of this game.
LVP: Isaiah Thomas was nowhere to be found for the Kings. The 5-9 guard, who led all reserves in scoring entering Sunday's game, scored just nine points on 4-of-11 shooting. The single-digit outing ended his 12-game streak of scoring in double figures to start the season.
X factor: Fast-break points. The Lakers took advantage of the Kings' shoddy transition defense and outscored Sacramento 20-10 in fast-break points. Kings coach Michael Malone has not been pleased with the way his team has defended in transition this season and that weakness was once again glaring.
MVP: Greg Monroe led a balanced attack for the Pistons. He had another double-double (18-11) and helped lead the Pistons to a 56-22 advantage in points in the paint. Monroe leads the Eastern Conference in double-doubles the past two seasons.
X factor: Rodney Stuckey poured in 27 points off the bench for Detroit. He did most of his damage in the fourth quarter, lighting up the Nets for 17 points. Stuckey currently leads the Eastern Conference in bench points per game.
Defining moment: Once again the Nets struggled after the half. The Pistons blitzed the Nets 34-15 in the third quarter, led by Brandon Jennings' 10 points. Brooklyn has been outscored in the third quarter in each of its 10 losses.
MVP: Chris Paul. An effortless 16 points and 17 assists from the point guard led the Clippers to an easy victory, and its widest margin in franchise history.
That was... disheartening: The Bulls' defense was deficient all afternoon and the offense crumbled in the second half. Without Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, the team is heading into a brutal stretch.
X factor: J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Whether from downtown or from midrange, the two swingmen were in perfect harmony with their jump shots. Dudley and Redick finished a combined 16-for-21 from the field for 40 points.
MVP: Goran Dragic (23 points and 13 assists) was superb. He made several big shots late in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:18 left that effectively ended in the game.
X factor: Known more as a 3-point marksman, Channing Frye did a lot of damage in the paint in the final period and helped the Suns maintain their lead as the Magic tried to make a comeback.
That was ... spectacular: The play of the game came late in the second quarter when Dragic ran a fast break and made a pretty behind-the-back pass to Gerald Green, who finished the sequence with a windmill dunk.
MVP: Utah's tank caravan. On a night when Jabari Parker went for 26 points and eight rebounds for Duke, the Jazz can take renewed solace in their ultimate goal while hitting rock bottom.
Defining moment: A Durant 3-pointer that tied the game 3-3. It sparked a 92-70 Thunder run that Utah never recovered from.
X factor: Although a majority of it came in garbage time, Jeremy Lamb had a nice 15 points in 13 minutes and spent a good amount of time running the point for the Thunder, and running it well.
3. Sunday's Best
Los Angeles Clippers:
The record-setting 121-82 rout of the Bulls occasioned the return of Antawn Jamison, who made his 16th NBA season debut 11 points. The Clippers surpassed their 33-point victory over the Bulls on Feb. 17, 1981, back when the club played in San Diego.
4. Sunday's Worst
The Brooklyn Nets: It was just a matter of time before this seasoned crew gained sole possession of last place in the Atlantic? Yep, the Detroit Pistons' 109-97 victory sent the Nets to a fifth straight loss in a division led by the 6-7 Toronto Raptors.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I think everybody in here is embarrassed."
-- Kevin Garnett, after his Nets team sunk to 3-10 with a home loss to the Pistons.
8. Stepping In For Slam
9. Stat Check
Some might say that the Brooklyn Nets are inventing new ways to lose: Case in point: They made 14-of-26 3-pointers, yet lost to the Detroit Pistons at home by 12 points. Teams that make at least 14 3-pointers and shoot 50 percent or better on those shots at home are now 76-7 over the last five seasons (including this game). They are one of only two teams to lose such a game by double figures in that span (Magic lost by 28 to the Heat earlier this season).
10. TrueHoop TV