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The Bulls defense is exposed yet again

Will Gottlieb Avatar
January 14, 2023

“We weren’t helping each other a lot tonight,” said Zach LaVine.

Truer words have not been spoken.

The Bulls dropped their third straight, this time to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-110. Among the reasons it was a bad loss, it was their 19th ranked defense, that was as bad as it has looked all year, that stole the show.

The Bulls allowed 72 first half points to the Thunder, the highest total the Bulls have allowed in any half this season. Their defense was a revolving door in the first half. Zero resistance on most of these possessions.

There was no ball pressure at the point of attack. There was no help at the rim. And if there was enough time to protect the rim, the ensuing rotations weren’t there to close out to shooters.

“We just didn’t help each other enough,” LaVine said. “Especially at the rim. Guys get beat. We’re not trying to but certain guys get beat. We’re not in the right place to help. We’re not going vertical at the rim. And then they’re getting everything.”

Shade at Nikola Vucevic? To be fair, it’s difficult to help at the rim if there’s no resistance at the point of attack.

“You can’t give up paint, free throws and threes,” Alex Caruso said after the game. “We just weren’t consistent enough. That’s kind of been our downfall in the games where we don’t play at our best. We have good spurts throughout the game but not a full, concentrated 48 minutes.”

And it showed up in their body language. With each open drive to the basket, the players looked completely demoralized, raised their arms and turned to walk down the court.

Caruso was uncharacteristically bad in the first half. And he took accountability for that during halftime, which helped the Bulls boost their effort in the third quarter.

“[Caruso] stood up at halftime and said, ‘I have got to be better guarding the ball than I was in that first half,'”Donovan said.

But it ended up not mattering as got blown out 33-20 in the fourth quarter.

“We look great defensively when we’re engaged and playing when our life’s on the line,” LaVine said. “But you give them everything: three-point line, free throw line, transition, at the rim, it’s going to be a tough night for anybody.”

Basically, they weren’t doing anything right.

“Being in the gaps. Rotating low man. Scrambling out. Boxing out,” Caruso named a few of the areas they need to focus on.

Is that all?

The Bulls are a poor defensive team to begin with, but missing DeMar DeRozan doesn’t exactly put them at that much of a loss on the defensive end. The errors here are a result of poor to attention to detail, concentration, awareness and desire. None of which they showed on Friday night.

Through it all, the Bulls have confidence they can pull things together.

“That’s just part of the NBA season,” Caruso said. “We’ve got to figure it out. Just the consistency part of it. Winning is hard. Winning is not an easy thing to do. You don’t just roll the ball out there and win games. You can’t get discouraged January 13th.”

There may still be half a season to go, but every bad effort like this is one step closer an eventuality they don’t want to face. They are now 19-24. Five games under 0.500 and the 11th seed in the East. Outside the Playoffs. Outside the play in tournament.

The Bulls are running out of time to figure things out. The defensive assignments are not foreign concepts no other teams run, that the Bulls are just learning and adjusting to. It’s about executing or not executing, and right now, we’re only seeing the latter.

“We’ve shown we can do it,” Donovan said. “But can we sustain that competitive, heightened level for a long period of time. That’s our challenge. That’s where we’ve got to get better”

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