The Chicago Bulls clear out of the United Center for two weeks each season when the circus comes to town. As they continue their road trip in New York, they may feel like they’ve walked into another circus-like atmosphere.
A pair of disappointing teams meet for the first time this season on Saturday when the Bulls visit the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks have lost eight straight since their 2-1 start, including the last three by an average of 23.3 points. New York fans have booed the team regularly and have chanted for embattled coach Isiah Thomas to be fired, point guard Stephon Marbury responded to a demotion by skipping a game in Phoenix and forward Zach Randolph missed three games due to the death of a relative.
“It’s not about the players right now. This is where coaching comes in,” said Thomas, also the team’s president. “I have to make sure I give my team enough confidence and courage to go out and compete and execute a game plan.”
Looking at the numbers, it’s not hard to see why the Knicks have endured their longest losing streak since a nine-game skid from March 19-April 4, 2006. New York ranks among the NBA’s 10 worst teams in field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage, assists, steals and blocks. They are also among the league’s worst in turnovers per game (17.1) and have allowed 103.9 points a contest.
Yet through all the boos and his recent sexual harassment case, Thomas isn’t raising the white flag.
“I just don’t think that this is the time to panic,” Thomas said Friday after practice. “After 11 games in the season, this is not the time to blow everything up.”
New York guard Nate Robinson defended his team after the Knicks’ most recent loss, a 98-86 defeat in Detroit Wednesday.
“It’s not that we don’t care,” he said. “It’s just when you’re playing so hard and nothing is going your way, it’s like taking a deep breath and thinking, ‘It can’t keep going on like this forever.’ But we’re not quitters.”
Perhaps the only team in the Eastern Conference that’s been less competitive than the Knicks has been the Bulls. Chicago is being outscored by an average of 9.8 points as opposed to the Knicks’ 8.6-point differential. The Bulls’ 2-8 start is their worst since a season-opening nine-game losing streak in 2004-05.
They’ve lost three of four on their annual circus road trip, and four of five overall. In those four defeats, they’ve lost by an average of 22.3 points.
Chicago was most recently on the wrong end of a 112-91 blowout in Denver on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what it is. There is no continuity out there and we are just struggling,” said guard Ben Gordon, who was 2-for-14 from the field. “It’s not just me; it’s everyone on the team. Collectively, we have to figure it out as a group and address it.”
The Bulls shot 40 percent from the field against Denver, which actually improved their field-goal percentage to 39 percent on the season. And after finishing second in the NBA in 2006-07 from 3-point range at 38.8 percent, the Bulls are hitting just 27.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Chicago averaged 98.8 points a season ago, and is scoring just 88.2 per contest in 2007-08.
“We are contemplating a lot of things and trying to get to the bottom of why we are playing this way,” Bulls coach Scott Skiles said.
To make matters worse, forward Luol Deng, the team’s second-leading scorer behind Gordon at 14.6 points a contest, has missed the last two games with a sore lower back. His availability for this game is unclear.
The Bulls have won five of six and 10 of their last 12 against the Knicks.