If Bill Cartwright has proved one thing in his short tenure as Bulls coach, it's that he doesn't hold grudges.
That's why a testy Cartwright shrugged off the notion that Jamal Crawford's frustrated reaction to being benched against Atlanta is a controversy and played the point guard 35 minutes on Saturday.
Cartwright has more pressing matters on his hands anyway after a scrappy Bucks team outhustled and outworked the Bulls in a brutal 98-68 loss that kicked off their road schedule.
After sprinting to an early 15-2 lead, the Bulls looked very much like the bewildered team that stumbled to a 3-38 road record last season, missing dunks and layups and getting beat inside defensively for easy baskets.
General manager John Paxson has said success in the early part of the Bulls' schedule is crucial so two flat performances in three games can't bode well for anybody.
The Bulls trailed 43-42 at halftime before collapsing in a dismal third quarter. They hit 3-of-17 shots and went without a field goal for 5 minutes 23 seconds as the Bucks took an 18-point lead. The Bulls' 26 second-half points were three points shy of the franchise low for a half. They hit just 8-of-33 shots in the second half.
Joe Smith led five Bucks in double figures with 19 in their home opener.
Crawford's 17 points led the Bulls, who shot 28 percent.
Before the game, both Paxson and Cartwright downplayed Crawford's inflammatory comments from late Friday, attributing them to Crawford's competitiveness.
Still, that Crawford is upset early makes the off-season injury to Jay Williams all the more glaring. If that accident didn't happen, Crawford might have been traded.
"Guys will get their opportunity," Cartwright said. "It's like playing baseball. You'll get a chance to take your swings. It's up to you to hit the ball.
"I'm not playing. I'll put you out there and see what you got. If you're not giving us what we need, we have to find somebody else to win some games. It's not personal. Basketball is simple. If you're playing well, you'll stay out there."
But Crawford didn't think he played poorly against Atlanta and didn't back down from his stance.
"[Jason] Terry hit a couple of shots, but it wasn't like it was out of halfcourt sets," Crawford said. "It was transition.
"I was speaking from my heart. I didn't want to say everything was fine because it wasn't. I want to help us win. I don't want to be on the bench in crucial minutes. It's a new day. Hopefully, it doesn't happen again."
Told that Crawford didn't think he deserved to sit, Cartwright frowned.
"Nobody wants Jamal to play well more than me," Cartwright said. "You have to learn a lesson here somewhere, don't you? We're here to win games. I think that's enough Jamal talk."
Cartwright was fired up throughout the night. In one of the funnier plays in memory, he grabbed an idle Eddie Robinson and shoved him forward to remind Robinson to make a cut through the lane on a last-second play to end the first quarter.
The laughs ended there.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times