Bulls follow Blackhawks’ lead

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 04/21/2014, 11:08am
Array CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 20: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls tries to shoot between Trevor Ariza #1 and Nene #42 of the Washington Wizards in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on April 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The Wizards defeated the Bulls 102-93. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 485876391

OK, Chicago, what’s the deal in the postseason?

The Blackhawks just gagged away two games.

And now the Bulls choked on their opener against the Washington Wizards, like it was an Easter egg they forgot to peel.

Wizards are magicians, but the Bulls took a 13-point third-quarter lead and made it disappear in a 102-93 loss.

It was just so odd, that period when the Bulls had the Wizards on the run. They seemed to get cocky for a couple of minutes, trying to run wild and do stuff they weren’t quite capable of doing. And that’s all it took.

These were the fifth-place, 44-38 Wizards, with a bunch of guys who had never been in the playoffs, playing their debut on the road. How? What?

If you saw the Hawks give away two wins to the St. Louis Blues, when they led by a goal with a combined 111 seconds left, you saw the ice-time equivalent of this game.

Yes, there are ebbs and flows in basketball games. The 24-second clock guarantees as much. But how do you let that 13-point lead go down to one point in six minutes without collecting yourselves and saying, Hey, these are the Wizards; let’s quit diddling around!

And while you’re asking yourself that, ask yourself this: Who the hell is Nene?

The Wizards’ 6-11, 250-pound forward/center from Brazil does that Brazilian-soccer one-name thing, but he’s anything but a bad-hands guy.

He pushed, banged and drilled his way to a game-high 24 points, to go with eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. And many of those points came on smooth jump shots that apparently the Bulls didn’t think he would take, let alone make.

Otherwise, why wasn’t he taken out of his — as they say in the NBA — rhythm?

‘‘I’m here to help my team,’’ Nene said afterward.

He added that, no, the plan had not been to pound the ball inside to him and the very large Marcin Gortat, thus taking the pressure off star guard John Wall and sidekick Bradley Beal.

‘‘I think we played our game,’’ Nene said.

Pity, that.

Because if the Bulls can’t beat the Wizards at home — and we won’t panic yet, but we’re bummed out — why is there any talk at all of the Bulls somehow meeting up with the Miami Heat and contending for the Eastern Conference title?

It’s hard to say just what went wrong for the Bulls, why they fooled around with a one- to five-point lead in the fourth quarter, until — what? — they were abruptly down four with 2:40 to play.

Somebody had to come to the rescue. But nobody did.

Little gnat D.J. Augustin (16 points, 10-for-10 from the free-throw line) didn’t score in the last six minutes. His man, senior-citizen point guard Andre Miller (actually just 38), scored eight points in the fourth quarter, making Wall’s re-entrance to the game not needed for a spell.

The Bulls got smoked 30-18 in the fourth quarter, and what you kept waiting for, as the smoking was occurring, was somebody to step up and announce that he was the man.

But, of course, there was no Carlos Boozer on the floor. One supposes there would have to be Armageddon for him to rise from his chair once the fourth quarter starts. (Wonder if coach Tom Thibodeau might ever rethink that.)

Taj Gibson is not yet a go-to guy, nor is center Joakim Noah when the ‘‘Tornado’’ is dubious and the lane is all bottled up. Plus, the Wizards seem hip to his passing skills. And rising player Jimmy Butler still doesn’t seem to want to take that money shot, the one Michael Jordan would knock his own teammates over to take.

So the Bulls needed power rebounding and fearless shooting at the end. And they got neither. It’s not good for them to be out-rebounded 45-39. Much of that is hustle. As is defense.

Giving up over 100 points was terrible. Remember, these Wizards are clueless about the playoffs. Got that?

‘‘The [big] lead was gone very quickly,’’ Thibodeau said bleakly.

There in the hallway at the UC, a man in a nice gray suit and dark tie wandered, looking fit and trim. Even though he can’t play.

His name is Derrick Rose, and he couldn’t have liked what he saw.

Who in Chicago could have?

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com

Twitter: @ricktelander

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