Two games into the 2nd half of the regular season, and all the positive momentum the Chicago Bulls had been riding into the All-Star break has been sucked out of the team. A brutal 22 point beating at the hands of the depleted Philadelphia ‘76ers (127-105), and a grind’em down, 101-90 loss to last year’s Eastern Conference Champions, the Miami Heat, have put the Bulls firmly in their place. The play on the court has been poor enough that rumors of a starting lineup shake up have surfaced.
Before we get to the rumors, there were some actual lineup changes present in the Bulls two losses: The return of Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. Lauri was an impressive 7 for 7 behind the 3 point line in Thursdays loss to the ‘76ers. Porter was not so impressive, exhibiting significant rust throughout his 17 minutes of playing time. He wasn’t the only Bulls player to look a little rusty after the All-Star break though. Coach Billy Donovan addressed his teams disappointing performance in his post-game press conference.
“I didn’t think we did anything very well tonight,” Donovan said. “It was a huge step backwards for our basketball team.”
“There was a stark, big, big difference in how both teams played tonight.” Donovan continued. When asked about the Bulls bad pick-and-roll defense he expressed a deep disappointment. “Everything we had made some positive strides on [in the 1st half of the season], we took some major steps backwards.”
Donovan drove home the point that the Bulls under performed against a Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons-less ‘76ers team, “We didn’t deserve to win the game. We didn’t deserve to be in the game.”
And Donovan was right. The Bulls were caught flatfooted by a hungry, aggressive, and competent Philadelphia team, that finally seems ready to take the next step and compete for a championship. Even without their two superstars, the ‘76ers easily discarded the Bulls like so much trash. Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and back up centers, Tony Bradley and Dwight Howard, just shredded the Bulls on both sides of the court. If this game was a measuring stick for the Bulls, they couldn’t even stack up to Philadelphia’s reserves.
In many ways, Friday’s loss to Miami was more of the same from the Bulls. While they kept the game much closer, and played better on both sides of the court, there was a clear disparity of talent between the two teams. While the Bulls played hard, the Heat proved the tougher team both physically and mentally.
“There’s no question that we had some opportunities, and the physicality on some of the plays around the basket impacted us.” Donovan laid out some of the Bulls issues to the press after the loss to the Heat. The Bulls missed a lot of layups in the game, enough so that they might have won the game if they had shot 50% from within a couple feet of the rim. The Bulls went 18-47 on shots in the paint, compared to Miami’s 23-36.
Even with the painful misses, the game was tied going into halftime. It took a special 2nd half effort from the Heat’s Goran Dragic to really seal the game. Afterwards, Donovan praised his the Bulls players grit. “This kind of physicality is hopefully what these guys are going to bring each game. That’s an identity you want to create.”
Donovan singled out Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine as really being the two guys that kept the Bulls in the game. He pointed out that it was when both of those guys were on the bench, getting some much needed rest at the end of the 3rd quarter beginning of the 4th, that Miami made the run that ultimately insured their victory. The Heat put that run together when the Bulls had their young players, Wendell Carter Jr, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, and Patrick Williams on the floor together.
It seems like anytime that combination of Bulls young players is on the court their opponents make some kind of run to either get back into a game or solidify their lead. The 4 man combination of Carter, White, Markkanen and Williams have played 103 minutes together this season, and are a -43 plus/minus. That’s not good. It’s the 7th worst 4 man lineup (out of hundreds) the Bulls have trotted out this season, according to NBA.com, and it’s the future of the Chicago Bulls. It’s no wonder that Donovan is thinking about shaking up the starting lineup.
According to Darnell Mayberry of the Athletic, the Bulls plan on tweaking the starting lineup by replacing White and Carter with Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young. The change could happen as early as today’s game against the Toronto Raptors. If the change does happen, it could signal permanent changes the Bulls would like to make at the looming trade deadline, or it could just be an effort to light a fire under the asses of a couple under performing players. I would suggest we fans don’t read to much into the possible benching of White and Carter. They both still have a lot of upside, and a lot of years ahead of them in the NBA.
Chandler Hutchison is still sidelined with his mysterious ailment. The Bulls have neither confirmed nor denied that his continued absence is Covid related. They maintain that he is out for “personal reasons”, and though he continues to suit up for games and practice with the team, there are no plans to put him back in the rotation.
Garrett Temple underwent an MRI yesterday after suffering what appeared to be a bad ankle sprain in Friday’s game against the Heat. The Bulls confirmed he will miss today’s game against the Raptors, but I was unable to find any other details on his condition. Maybe more will be shared about the Bulls veteran team leader before or after today’s game.
With so much at stake, both for this season and the future of the franchise, I am eagerly anticipating the 2nd half of this Bulls season. It hasn’t been this exciting since we were cheering for the Tank to land us Luka Doncic. Let’s hope this year ends in either a playoff berth or another top 4 pick. Until it does, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!