After a surprising start to a four game West Coast road trip, the Bulls seemed to have plateaued. The great win against the Portland Trailblazers on Tuesday quickly lost it’s luster as the Bulls fell to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. Both losses were competitive games, and featured quality moments from Zach LaVine, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr, and the Expenda-Bulls (Otto Porter Jr, Garrett Temple, and Thaddeus Young), but ultimately saw the Bulls squander precious opportunities in the closing minutes of each game, resulting in defeat.
I’m chalking Wednesday’s loss to the Kings up to the Bulls being tired on the second leg of a back-to-back. They stayed with, and ahead, of Sacramento for the majority of the game, but just didn’t seem to have the legs to close it out. Guys were missing open jumpers, dragging on defense, and generally looking gassed when they came to the sidelines. That’s to be expected on the second night of a back-to-back, but good teams find a way to push through the fatigue and will themselves to victory. I guess the Bulls are not at that point in their development yet (will they ever be?). King’s rookie and early favorite for Rookie of the Year, Tyrese Haliburton, played lights out, drilling the game clinching 3 pointer with 12 seconds left in the game. Final score: 128 to 124, Kings.
It was a similar situation with the Lakers on Friday night. L.A. sat out Anthony Davis who was nursing a sore abductor muscle, but LeBron James suited up and played with his usual gusto. The Bulls managed to keep the game close for all four quarters, even taking the lead midway through the 4th, but they got sloppy down the stretch, making poor decisions with the basketball and shooting difficult shots. Once again the Bulls came up short to LeBron and his compatriots, 117 to 115. This loss wasn’t so much about LeBron as it was the Bulls squandering scoring opportunities late in the game. The last shot by Zach LaVine was particularly frustrating because he took a long, contested two pointer from a weird angle, with a wide open Thadd Young one pass away. He took the shot with a few seconds left on the clock too, which meant there was time for Thadd to drive the lane and try for a higher percentage lay up, or dish it to one of Patrick Williams or Wendell Carter who were patrolling under the basket, or even dish the ball back out to LaVine for a shot from a better spot on the court.
I’m not blaming Zach for the Bulls losing the game. There were plenty of other miscues to nit pick that had nothing to do with him. It’s just frustrating to see him make such tremendous strides as a facilitator and closer, only to see him fall back into his old habit of end-of-game-tunnel-vision. The good thing is I trust Billy Donovan is trying to work with him on that, and, the way the Bulls have been playing competitive basketball against good teams this last week, I’m sure he’ll have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself.
The Bulls wrap up their West Coast swing with a matinee this afternoon against the Los Angeles Clippers. The new-ish look Clippers are near the top of the heap in the Western Conference, and I wonder if they might be tempted to sit out Kahwi Leonard or Paul George against the humble Bulls. If they do, it could be a golden chance for the Bulls to pick up their 5th victory of the season. If there is one thing we’ve learned about them so far on this road trip, the Bulls are no longer a pushover team. They will make opponents earn their victories.
It’s back to Chicago for a game against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. Another measuring stick game, we’ll see how the Bulls stack up against one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Then Friday, it’s back on the road to take on a familiar foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder. We’ll see how different each team is from when they faced each other twice in preseason. The Bulls finish out the week on the road against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. Maybe Luka Doncic will play this time.
Lauri Markkanen and Ryan Arcidiacono continue to test negative for the Corona Virus, so we can expect them to rejoin the team on Tuesday. Not much is being said about Chandler Hutchison and Tomas Satoransky, only that they continue to isolate and recover after they both tested positive for the virus last week (two weeks ago? It all blends together after a while). Hopefully, they fully recover and don’t suffer any after affects. Sato was proving himself a very capable and important member of the Expenda-Bulls squad, taking on the lead guard position for the second unit. Hutch was working his way toward more minutes with improved play on both ends of the floor. The Bulls will be a much deeper team and less prone to wearing down at the end of games when all 4 of those guys are healthy and available.
At some point in the near future I plan on posting about Patrick Williams. He’s been a pleasant surprise this season, and I’ve seen some growth from him. I say this about every new addition to the Bulls, but he just might be the best player on the team. Until he proves he is, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!