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February 21, 2010
Five Thoughts
Bulls-Sixers

by Bradford Doolittle

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The Bulls' deadline dealing created a difference of opinion among NBA followers. The advanced stat crowd generally felt like Chicago weakened itself by dealing John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas and replacing them with Flip Murray and Hakim Warrick, not to mention trade filler Acie Law and Joe Alexander. The conventional folks generally thought the Bulls actually bolstered their playoff position. Letís leave that argument aside for a separate essay, but acknowledge that both sides can agree the early returns are exciting for Bulls fans.

For the second straight game, Chicago' second unit provided a spark as the Bulls unloaded on the 76ers on Saturday, handing enigmatic Philadelphia a 122-90 setback at the United Center. Newcomers Murray and Warrick combined for 27 points, 12 boards, five assists and three blocks off the bench and perhaps even more importantly, helped keep up the quick pace established by Chicago's starting five. While a 33-16 second quarter fueled the Bulls' runaway, even more important was the ball-sharing and ball-handling of Chicago's first unit. Against a Philadelphia defense that subsists on causing turnovers, Chicago handed out 26 assists and committed three turnovers in the game, the latter total the team's lowest in 10 years.

GAME FLOW

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
                  Poss   oRTG   eFG%  oREB%  FT/FGA  TO%
First Quarter      24    94.1   .375   .333   .400  .245
Second Quarter     24    65.9   .289   .000   .263  .165
Third Quarter      21   141.9   .565   .429   .174  .095
Fourth Quarter     23    92.1   .417   .286   .042  .132
--------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF         49    80.0   .333   .250   .333  .209
SECOND HALF        44   116.0   .489   .400   .106  .061
========================================================
FINAL              92    98.1   .419   .308   .209  .164
========================================================

CHICAGO BULLS Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO% First Quarter 24 102.3 .455 .143 .227 .041 Second Quarter 24 135.9 .500 .455 .320 .041 Third Quarter 21 141.9 .500 .417 .364 .047 Fourth Quarter 23 149.1 .558 .385 .192 .000 -------------------------------------------------------- FIRST HALF 49 119.0 .479 .280 .277 .042 SECOND HALF 44 145.6 .531 .357 .271 .011 ======================================================== FINAL 92 133.0 .505 .340 .274 .033 ========================================================

The Bulls' offense has had so many stagnant second halves this season that it's become almost mundane, but Saturday's explosion helped to bury some of those memories. The point total was Chicago's best of the season, while the Offensive Rating was third. Six of the seven games this season in which the Bulls have posted at least a 120.0 Offensive Rating have come in the last five weeks. When you only turn the ball over three times in 92 possessions, it's hard to not have an inefficient offense. As a result, Chicago is a season-best three games over .500 and currently more concerned about chasing down Toronto for the No. 5 seed in the East than holding off the Bucks for the last playoff slot.

My takeaways from Saturday's game:

1. Noah's grand return
Joakim Noah made his first appearance since being shut down on Feb. 3 for plantar ficiitis in his left foot. He didn't start, but entered the game with about 3:30 to go in the first quarter. His introduction drew a thunderous response from the United Center faithful, which underscores the general popularity the affable Noah has obtained in the Windy City and the fact that his lunch-pale style has won over a great many converts. Noah was responsible for the game's most comical moment when he missed an uncontested two-hand dunk that left the crowd buzzing for a good minute afterwards and the Bulls bench falling over themselves in laughter. He got up plenty high enough, but just missed it. Guess he's rusty.

Noah finished with one point and two rebounds in 6:42 of playing time. After the game, Vinny Del Negro said he had planned on giving Noah another 6-7 minute stint in the second half, but with the Bulls so far ahead there just wasn't any reason to do so. Noah had been unable to practice except for about 20 minutes earlier in the week, so it'll take him some time to get his wind back, assuming the plantar ficiitis doesn't well up, but there is probably a fair chance that he doesn't get completely right until the summer. After the game, Noah could be seen sitting in front of his locker, with his big feet soaking in a metal tub full of ice, being interviewed by a Frenchman named Arnaud Huchet. Just in case you were wondering.

2. New Record for Captain Kirk
The United Center crowd is usually plentiful, if a bit placid, often reacting more to the scoreboard antics than the game itself. Last night, the U.C. crowd was really into the game without having to be told. Their enthusiasm included a nice ovation for Kirk Hinrich, who set the Bulls record for most three-pointers made in a Chicago uniform. It wasn't exactly a longstanding mark as it had been held by Ben Gordon. The other career leaders in that category for the Bulls include Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan and Steve Kerr.

3. Sixers are delusional
Forget their words, which are delusional. I mean, Eddie Jordan and Allen Iverson are still talking about making a push for the playoffs and, yeah, they've got to say that, but more important are the actions of the organization. The Sixers are more or less back to being the Sixers, but not quite and it's too late. Since they set aside Jordan's attempts at forcing his preferred systems onto an ill-fitting roster, Philly has been hitting boards, forcing turnovers, giving up a high field-goal percentage, etc.--all the things they've done the last few years. The result is still mediocrity. The direction of the franchise is still unknown. The cap situation next season remains dire and would have remained so even if that had dealt Andre Iguodala for Amare Stoudemire and his possibly-expiring contract. This is an organization in need of a makeover, or else a couple of really smart basketball people.

4. Brand is sleepwalking
The Sixers have a lot of money going to players for nominal production, but the leader in that parade continues to be Elton Brand. Brand had seven points and 13 rebounds while going 2-of-8 from the field. He was abused by both Hakim Warrick and Taj Gibson of the Bulls, who combined for 35 points and 22 boards. Warrick especially made Brand look much older than his 30 years, beating him down the floor for dunks on a couple of occasions while Brand lurched behind like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Brand just looks like a player who has lost his legs. I also thought that when the Sixers were in Chicago the first time this season. However, he may just be a victim of the general malaise in Philly. Either way, there are three more years and $51.1 million to go on Brand's contract, which looks more onerous with each passing month.

5. Vince Vaughn likes Chicago sports teams
Nobody is more of a curmudgeon than I am when it comes to T-shirt guns and Noise-O-Meters and all the other stuff that happens during timeouts in NBA games. (If only they had real-life TiVo.) Even I had to smile when they were playing the scoreboard game where they flash up a picture of a celebrity, then show a spectator that looks like said celebrity, then everybody laughs. On Saturday, they flashed up a picture of Vince Vaughn and the spectator was--you guessed it--Vince Vaughn. Vaughn was sitting courtside and when he was flashed on the scoreboard, he reached down and grabbed a Derrick Rose jersey and started waving it around like a flag. The populous was pleased. Vaughn also played along later when Bennie the Bull made some romantic overtures. Good sport, that Vince.

You can go back and read my in-game comments and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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