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Chicago Bulls margin for error is too small to keep digging themselves in holes

Will Gottlieb Avatar
November 16, 2023

“It was kind of gross,” Alex Caruso said of Wednesday night’s game.

To be fair, it’s hard to win games when you shoot less than 40 percent from the field.

Credit the Chicago Bulls for pulling themselves out of yet another 20-point deficit (ok fine, it was only 19). Despite starting the game on one of the more repulsive shooting streaks you’ll ever see, the Bulls clawed their way back to tie the game with two massive three-pointers by Zach LaVine, before ultimately losing 96-94 at the hands of a Paolo Banchero game-winning shot.

When Thursday’s last two-minute report comes out, we may see an ‘incorrect no-call’ at the three-second mark, as the refs missed what appears to be a pretty clear traveling violation.

What they may also identify, is Nikola Vucevic signaling for a timeout when the Bulls had no timeouts remaining. Maybe it all comes out in the wash.

“He made a tough shot,” said Alex Caruso after the game. “The ball bounced like four times on the rim and went in. I think that, without saying too much, we’ll be looking at a two-minute report and see what happened with foot movement down there for Paolo. But overall, I tried to make it tough on him. He made a tough shot.”

“I think the biggest thing is probably don’t put ourselves in a position to leave it to chance when it was played again,” he said.

There’s the real key.

There were misses and miscues on the final possessions. Caruso missed an open corner three on a beautiful find from LaVine with 32 seconds remaining. Vucevic could have provided better support and gotten a hand up to contest Banchero. Patrick Williams didn’t even get a shot up with no timeouts and 1.5 seconds left following Banchero’s shot.

It’s hard to be perfect in late-game scenarios. The margin for error is already too thin. Better to not have to scratch and claw yourself back into a very winnable game after putting up a paltry 67.3 first half offensive rating.

With no DeMar DeRozan in the lineup for personal reasons, the Bulls offense was incredibly stagnant. Again, they could not make a layup. They were 9-0f-33 from deep, for 27 percent. They lost the free throw attempts battle 30-22 and had a season-worst 25 turnovers.

“The ball just wasn’t going in the hoop,” LaVine said. “I’ve got to do a better job of making layups and making wide open dunks. You guys saw me smile a couple of times, at a certain point I was just missing everything.”

It’s a make or miss league, but the Bulls need to do a better job controlling the things they can control. Defending in transition. Turnovers. Second chance opportunities. If they can do a better job there, they’ll be able to survive cold spells.

None of that is made easy without DeRozan. In his absence, Williams drew the start at small forward and much of what he did was not pretty. Though he showed some assertiveness with the ball, drawing six free throw attempts, he had some wild finished, was blocked several times and ultimately shot just 2-of-7 for a total of nine points.

Seven of his points and all of his free throw attempts came in the first half. He had another disappearing act on that end in the second half.

Fortunately, his defense was solid throughout. He had two blocks and a steal and a few defining possessions against Banchero. He attacked the glass, grabbing a season-high 9 rebounds. He closed both halves with the starters and it was, at the very least, nice to see him looking for his own shot.

Nothing overly impressive, but a good stepping stone.

LaVine said that trade rumors would not affect his play prior to the game, followed that sentiment after the game, despite a pretty lousy performance, at least through three quarters. LaVine was 2-of-11 from the field with eight points and three turnovers after the third period and did not look engaged or excited about being out there.

When asked after the game if those trade rumors impacted his play, he said it’s nothing new:

“I’ve had this news for three years. It’s nothing new to me. It’s a regular Wednesday.”

He picked things up in the fourth quarter, shooting 4-of-5 for 11 points, including those two triples that tied the game. His statline looks a lot better than his production for the first 42 minutes.

The Bulls continue to get off to slow starts, play without a sense of urgency and the losses are piling up. The Bulls are now 4-8 to start the year, currently sitting at 12th in the Eastern Conference standings, already 1.5 games out of the 10th seed.

“I sound like a broken record, but it’s just about consistency,” Caruso said. “This team has pieces to be a good team, has pieces to win games. We’ve just got to do it on a more consistent basis.”

We’re going on year three of this and it’s still the same question. Still no answers.

Up Next: The Bulls second In-Season Tournament game on Friday night against the Orlando Magic (again)

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