Two Steps Back…

Just when you think everything is going the Bulls way, WHAMMO! Pure destruction at the hands of Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks. After an additional loss to Bulls killer Kemba “Matador” Walker and his Charlotte Hornets, the Bulls find themselves 1-2 in preseason basketball. I know what you’re thinking, “Who cares? It’s the preseason!” Well, I’m here to cry panic.

You know the old saying “defense wins championships”? Someone should tell the Bulls it can also win games. In each of these three preseason games, the Bulls have found themselves trailing their opponents at the start of the 2nd quarter. They have all been modest deficits easily overcome with solid play the rest of the game on both ends of the court. That’s exactly how it played out for the Bulls in their win against the New Orleans Pelicans. Trailing by 4 points (32-28) at the start of the 2nd quarter, the Bulls steadily gained the lead and protected it until the final buzzer sounded. It was an impressive 128-116 win for Chicago.

The Bulls found themselves in familiar territory after the 1st quarter against the Bucks. Milwaukee held a slim 7 point lead (32-25), but unlike the previous game, the Bulls were unable to overcome the deficit. Milwaukee trounced our heroes 116-82. It was an embarrassing loss, even by preseason standards. Jabari Parker described his role in the fiasco succinctly. “I played like doo-doo.” He said. Unfortunately for Bulls fans, so did all of his teammates. But it’s one game. A preseason game at that. It’s nothing to worry about, I’m sure. It’s just an aberration. Chalk it up to rust.

It’s game three of the preseason and that old feeling of deja vu is creeping up all over again. The Bulls are losing by 4 points (28-24) starting the 2nd quarter against the Charlotte Hornets, and just like with the Milwaukee Bucks, that puny lead proved insurmountable. The Bulls never even tied the game up. The Hornets took that 4 point lead and ballooned it to 14 points by half time, and 23 points by the middle of the 3rd quarter. The game was all but over. To their credit the Bulls never quit, chipping away throughout the 4th, making the final score (110-104) a lot more palatable. Still… Two blow out losses in a row? Yep, it’s preseason. Yep, the team is rusty. Sure, they probably aren’t trying too hard, I mean we are talking about practice… but it isn’t sitting right with me.

Those second quarters were ugly, and they featured three of the most important players the Bulls have on the roster right now: Jabari Parker, Zach LaVine, and Bobby Portis. In the game against the Bucks, those three shared the court for almost a full 6 minutes in the 2nd quarter, and by the end of it, the Bulls were down by 20 points (63-43). The three of them shuffled about on defense like old men meandering through the stacks of the Harold Washington Library. They were slow to switch defensive assignments, confused about when to slide into the paint to help defend against opponents driving to the hoop. They consistently guessed wrong when confronted with going over or under a pick, and none of them did a good job boxing out or corralling defensive rebounds. One player like that on the court is a concern, two is a defensive liability, three is simply catastrophic.

Things went a little better in the loss to the Hornets. Parker, LaVine, and Portis spent much less time together on the court in that pivotal 2nd quarter. But even in that diminished time, the Catastrophes managed to allow Charlotte to add 10 points to their lead. Even so, Parker was much better rebounding, and LaVine put more effort into his defense, but it just wasn’t enough. The lesson learned? You can’t have Parker, LaVine, and Portis on the floor together for any amount of time, not if you want to win the basketball game.

The Bulls are a very talented team, with a roster full of offensive and defensive specialists. It’s up to Coach Fred Hoiberg to balance the rotations. It might be an impossible task to achieve. Bulls fans are expecting significant improvement from the team this year, but these last two preseason games have not been encouraging. For fans who have playoff expectations, the lack of defensive chemistry over the last two games (the worst case scenario we all dreaded after they re-signed LaVine and scooped up Parker) should be enough to trigger the panic klaxons. With the Bulls floundering on defense, they look like a team that will struggle to win 25 games this year, forget about competing for a playoff spot.

I’ve already seen fans blaming Coach Hoiberg for the embarrassing losses. While Hoiberg certainly, bears some of the blame, fans should focus the bulk of their ire on players who have spent their entire lives perfecting only half of the game of basketball. With that being said, the real blame lies at the feet of the front office, the people who assembled this defenseless roster and coaching staff.

Okay, okay, I’m taking a deep breath and stepping away from the keyboard. It is just the preseason. But if this trend of awful defense continues into the regular season, we fans will have no choice but to cry panic and let slip the dogs of woe.