Bulls afternoon games always have had a different, quieter feel to them. The crowd is more family-oriented, less beverage-enhanced.
Yet the United Center could have passed for a library for much of Wednesday's action for reasons that went beyond the 1 p.m. start time.
Uninspired, passive, sloppy play can have that kind of numbing effect.
In fact, most of the noise from the crowd of 21,861 came in the form of half-hearted booing during the Magic's 113-94 blowout victory, which wasn't even that close.
At least coach Vinny Del Negro made some noise — first Tuesday, when he fined three players, then in the form of a four-man substitution early in the third quarter Wednesday and finally with some pointed postgame comments.
"You have to compete and play hard," Del Negro said. "I didn't think we did that."
And, yes, that previous paragraph featured no "D," kind of like the Bulls, who continue to treat defense as if it's optional. Orlando had leads as high as 33 points.
"We didn't play hard," guard Ben Gordon said. "We weren't ready, so it really didn't matter who was out there. I'm not going to make excuses. I wasn't ready. My teammates weren't ready. It's not acceptable."
Del Negro felt the same way when he fined Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah and Larry Hughes for conduct detrimental to the team. The fines, presumed nominal to remind players who's in charge, stemmed from the Bulls' road victory Monday in New Jersey, when Del Negro reminded players of a rule in the team handbook prohibiting pregame eating in the locker room.
Some players grumbled, saying they were unaware of the rule. From there, Del Negro dealt with players directing what he viewed as either improper language or disrespectful behavior toward him.
It's conduct similar to what former coaches Scott Skiles and Jim Boylan dealt with, and how Del Negro handles it presents a true test for him as coach. After all, losing a locker room is far worse than losing a game.
And, obviously, the fines didn't go over well.
Neither did a Bulls performance that featured the second time in three games they have allowed 65 or more points in the first half. The Magic's starting front line, led by Dwight Howard's 15 points and 14 rebounds in just 29 minutes, outscored the Bulls' 54-15.
"The most disappointing thing is there was a game," Del Negro tried to joke. "From the get-go, they jumped on us. They're obviously one of the most talented teams, with Howard up front and their shooters. But it seemed like we were running in circles and our energy wasn't good. You can pinpoint that we haven't been at home, but those are just excuses."
Noah's career-high 19 points led the Bulls, whose frustration showed as Noah and Aaron Gray were assessed technicals.
"It's embarrassing to lose that way," Noah said. "We got booed by our home crowd. So there's not that much to be happy about."
Del Negro tried to stem the tide at the 8-minute-56-second mark of the third quarter, sending in Noah, Hughes, Andres Nocioni and Lindsey Hunter for all starters but Thabo Sefolosha. Derrick Rose failed to record even one assist.
"I didn't see anything good happening out there," Del Negro said. "Might as well go with other guys and see if you can get a spark."
A lighthearted pregame moment actually served as foreshadowing, though nobody knew it at the time.
Pressed to offer a classy pregame speech thanking fans for their support, Rose began by speaking into a non-live microphone. When it came to life, Rose was heard saying, "Hello?" — like a comedian brushing off a bombed joke by asking, "Hello? Is this on?"
Unfortunately for the Bulls, Wednesday was no joke. And they never found their on button.
Time will tell if Del Negro's fines push the right buttons for his players.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times