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updated: 11/9/2012 2:37 PM

Bulls struggling with 3-point shooting

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  • Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich has had some success from the 3-point range, but the Bulls have struggled all season to connect from long distance.

      Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich has had some success from the 3-point range, but the Bulls have struggled all season to connect from long distance.
    Associated Press

 
 

After games like this one, it's natural to offer a reflexive pat on the back.

The Bulls put up a good fight against Oklahoma City on Thursday at the United Center. But without Derrick Rose, they didn't stand a chance against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in crunchtime of a close game.

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While there's some truth to that sentiment, it ignores recent history. The Bulls beat plenty of good teams last season while Rose was sidelined with injuries. In fact, they knocked off every Eastern Conference playoff team without Rose -- Boston twice.

Granted, the Thunder would be a difficult matchup even if the Bulls brought in a few ringers. Despite all the positive signs in the 97-91 loss, something major is missing -- 3-point shooting.

Think back to those big wins last year. What stands out? Clutch 3-point shots by John Lucas III, a game-tying 3 from C.J. Watson against Miami, Kyle Korver finding room behind the arc.

The 3-point shot was the Bulls' secondary weapon the last two seasons, even when Rose was on the floor.

Where is it this year? Heading into Thursday's action, the Bulls were last in the NBA in 3-point percentage at .262. They were a little better against OKC, with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich going a combined 5-for-11. But in the fourth quarter, the Bulls hit just 1-of-6 attempts and were outscored 31-19.

Inside the locker room, the players had a variety of opinions when asked what's missing.

"We're definitely capable," center Joakim Noah said. "I think everybody who saw the game could see we're capable. Twenty turnovers against some high-scoring team, you can't do that. Those guys get on the break, it's 2 points.

"We can play better defensively. Our help side can be better. I think the strength of our defense is when all five of us are moving together and helping each other. We're very good. All it takes is just one person not to be on a rotation and it hurts our team. Mentally, we all have to do it together."

Noah took his new role as a scoring threat seriously. With the game tied at 87-87, he popped free on the baseline and immediately called for the ball. But his 16-footer rattled off the rim.

Noah was the Bulls' top scorer heading into the game. After scoring 9 points, to go with 13 rebounds and 6 assists, he dropped to second behind Deng.

Deng suffered a left thumb injury late in Thursday's game and still managed to score 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting. The Bulls took Friday off, so his status for Saturday's home date with Minnesota is unknown.

"It's still early," Deng said. "We've just got to get rolling. Win two games, lose, win, lose. Normally, we start rolling and start putting wins together. We know it's early, but that's two games we lost at home. So we have to do a better job of it."

Another disturbing trend sort of goes hand-in-hand with the poor outside shooting. The new group of reserves hasn't provided the same lift as the dismantled "Bench Mob."

Backup point guard Nate Robinson has been very good, but he's overmatched defensively by Westbrook and scored just 2 points against OKC.

After looking solid in preseason, veteran center Nazr Mohammed hasn't brought any spark since the games started counting. He played less than two minutes against the Thunder before coach Tom Thibodeau decided to change tactics.

The same goes for Marco Belinelli, who played less than six minutes and contributed 2 free throws. Even Taj Gibson, with a generous contract extension in his possession, had 4 points and 2 rebounds in 25 minutes of action.

The best hope for a 3-point shooter might be Hinrich, the franchise leader in 3-point baskets. He's 4-for-10 on the season, so maybe he needs to shoot a little more.

As for regrets, that's probably pointless. Playing for their new teams, Korver and Lucas were a combined 5-for-25 from 3-point range through Thursday. Watson and Ronnie Brewer, meanwhile, have gone 10-for-21 from long range.

There's no turning back now. The Bulls need to spread the floor, move the ball and bury a long jumper more than once every few quarters.

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