The midpoint of any season is a time to take pause, to assess, to look behind briefly to learn from successes and failures and then to look forward with optimism.
Notice there was no mention of the present. That's because the present wasn't a good place for the Bulls to be Saturday night at the United Center.
Utah pushed, but the Bulls didn't push back, ending the first half of their season with a resounding thud in a 95-85 loss to the Jazz.
The loss exposed glaring offensive weaknesses of late, namely bad decision-making in the form of 18 turnovers, poor ball movement that translated to 38.2 percent shooting and a lack of fortitude to fight through a physically defensive team.
"We don't have that many physical players," coach Scott Skiles said. "It's not the makeup of our team yet. If the shots are going down, we're better in that environment. But when they're not, it bothers us even more."
And right from the tip, good shotswide-open, uncontested shotsweren't falling for the Bulls. They then compensated by trying to do too much, either dribbling into trouble or throwing a pass away.
"We had 11 naked, wide-open looks in the first half that we missed," Skiles said. "We're still not where we need to be as far as playing through that. That causes us to not rely on each other."
Meanwhile, Utah kept pressure offensively by running textbook offensive sets that have defined Jerry Sloan-coached teams. The win marked the 1,011th of Sloan's career, moving him past Larry Brown for fourth on the all-time NBA list for victories.
Not surprisingly, Sloan wanted to talk about the victory's ramifications for the team rather than a personal milestone.
"This was a good win for us," Sloan said. "The guys played [Friday] night and at times looked tired. But we executed our offense well, hung in there and got a second wind."
Skiles had warned of a physical game Friday and Utah's big men responded with huge efforts. Carlos Boozer finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds while Mehmet Okur had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"We get a lot of talk about how hard we play," Skiles said. "That team plays hard every single game."
The Bulls trailed 71-66 with 8 minutes 42 seconds left when P.J. Brown was whistled for a technical foul after slamming the ball in disgust over being called for a personal foul on Boozer. Derek Fisher hit the technical free throw, and Boozer split his two shots for a seven-point lead. Utah never was challenged seriously thereafter.
Ex-Illinois star Deron Williams had a big first half but picked up three third-quarter fouls and fouled out with 12 points, seven assists and two steals.
Williams drew a loud ovation from the sellout crowd of 22,351 during starting lineup introductions. He had his first two shots, both layups, blocked by Ben Gordon and Ben Wallace. He then started connecting on medium-range jumpers, hitting 6 of 8 before halftime.
Gordon's 23 points led the Bulls, who set season lows with 13 assists and 14 bench points. Wallace tied a season-high with six blocks.
The Bulls began the night tied with Detroit only a half-game behind Cleveland for the Eastern Conference's best record. That speaks as much to the state of the conference as it does to the progress of the Bulls, who nevertheless have rebounded well from a 3-9 start.
That's why optimism abounds that the season's second half can be better.
"I think so, definitely," Hinrich said. "We've showed signs of being good offensively. We've showed signs of being good defensively. We need to put it together. I think we can do that."
You just wouldn't know that by watching Saturday night's performance.
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