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This game was bound to happen, it's just a shame it happened in New Jersey.

The Bulls fell to the Nets 96-94 tonight, snapping a five-game win streak.  

My thoughts are simple - Bulls FT shooting cost the Bulls this game, even with an awful third quarter and Carlos Boozer on the bench for the fourth.  The Bulls stormed back late, as Derrick Rose came back into the game, and had a quick 6-0 run of his own.  Then, with the Bulls down 94-92, Luol Deng went to the line, and promptly missed two free throws.   

Again, Luol Deng hasn't had a good year offensively.  He defends the best player, and does a pretty good job.  He hits open jumpers, and can slash to the hoop when he feels like it.  But this year, his PER is at 14.80, lowest since his rookie year.  He doesn't shoot particularly well from the field at 45.5% and while he's hit some big three's, he's also been just terrible at the line at 70%.  

But everyone says he's had a great year.  Stacey King, Neil Funk and especially Chuck Swirsky.  

And he's soft.  There, I said it.  Shots down the stretch, Luol doesn't make.  It's toughness.  It's mental toughness.  He doesn't seem to have it.  He can't hit FT down the stretch, either.  I don't make a lot of posts about toughness, but only when it's so damn obvious.  

It's not just Deng that misses free throws, but Derrick and Carlos, too.  They're not particularly good at free throws, and they get to the line the most often.  This is where a 2G that can get to the line consistently is incredibly important.  It's like on-base percentage for basketball players.  It's easier to score from the line, but somehow, it's insanely difficult for the Bulls.

Everyone wants to put the Bulls into that elite category, and they're just not there yet because of the woes at the line.  They're also not good defensively, although Thib's defensive schemes have helped.  

Boozer doesn't play in the fourth, and Thib says it's because of offensive matchup.  What he really means is that Carlos can't play a lick of defense.  When Kris Humphris scores 20 on you, you don't have the best defense at the PF spot.  Don't get me wrong, Humphris has improved a lot since he went out way too early from Minnesota, but that wouldn't happen with someone better guarding him.  When Carlos didn't have it on the offensive end, Thib sat him, whicih was unfortunate because that meant Luol had to play even more.

Anyways, enough of the rant.  It's great to see the Bulls at 23-11.  It's even better to see the job coach Thib has done so quickly.  There's a great chance for the Bulls to get a 3 seed in the East, too.  But, even at 23-11, the Bulls have areas to improve on, like not playing Bogans and Deng so much, and making free throws.  It's ridiculous to tell grown men to practice free throws, and I have no doubt that they shoot theirs, but it's got to be mental.  I just hope it doesn't cost the Bulls too many more down the stretch.

Bulls go to Philly on Friday.