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Bulls temporarily fall out of playoff picture

Mar 10, 2010, 10:34 AM EDT

The bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff teams may not be the best teams in the world (especially compared to their cross-conference counterparts), but each is surprisingly competitive and quite entertaining on some level or another. Plus, if you’re privileged to have NBA League Pass, you’ll be able to watch five capable, hungry teams fighting and clawing for every chance to climb up the standings.

Actually, with the Bulls picking up their fifth straight loss last night, let’s make that four capable teams.

It’s not that Chicago isn’t talented or doesn’t have it in them to make a playoff run. Far from it. It’s just that their potential to be a solid team has been sitting on the bench in a protective boot in the form of Joakim Noah. He’s played in only four games since February 5th, and not surprisingly, he’s been absent during each game of the Bulls’ current losing streak.

And now, if they’re not careful, Chicago could end up losing even more valuable ground in the playoff hunt. They’re only half a game back from the 7th seed, but that’s all it would take at the end of the season to keep Derrick Rose and co. watching from their couches at home. There’s plenty of time left for Noah to recover, return, and make an impact, but the important thing is that the Bulls find a way to tread water between now and then.

The key to doing that is to play anything resembling defense, which is understandably difficult given that Brad Miller is now starting at center for the Bulls, with his primary back-ups being Chris Richard (cue the “Who?”s) and Taj Gibson. Not exactly the ideal situation for interior defense of any kind. From K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

“Joakim helps us a lot, but our team defense hasn’t been very good,” Kirk Hinrich said. “We’re getting away from what has made us successful.”

Indeed, that’s eight straight opponents who have surpassed the century
mark against the Bulls. That hasn’t happened in franchise history since
Feb. 8, 1990. It’s also the fifth time in eight games the opponent has
shot 50 percent or better as the Jazz, the league’s most accurate
shooting team, checked in at 54.2 percent.

The Bulls also lost Luol Deng to a right calf strain early in the fourth quarter. Deng, who will
undergo an MRI on Wednesday, had returned from missing Monday’s
practice with the flu to score 14 points in 32 minutes.

“We’re not going to win games unless we play better ‘D,'” Deng said. “Our offense is fine.”

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