On February 7, 2023, LeBron James added to his legacy of greatness in the NBA becoming the all-time leading scorer. 38,388 points, and counting.
Meanwhile, the once also great Bulls added to their legacy of post-Jordan mediocrity* with a 104-89 loss (a season-low in total scoring) to the Memphis Grizzlies.
*I felt bad for writing that the Bulls have been mediocre since then, so I added up the wins and losses…883 wins to 1064 losses in the 25 years since Michael Jordan’s final game with the Bulls. That comes out to a 45 percent win rate and about 37 wins a season. Their current 48 win percentage puts them on pace for 39.4 wins in 2022-23.
Without DeMar DeRozan (hip) in the lineup, of course the Bulls would struggle to generate high-quality offense. Zach LaVine finished with 24 points (6-of-13 shooting), but struggled from the free throw line, converting only 10 of his career-high 17 attempts. He finished with one assist to three turnovers.
Not his most efficient effort, but LaVine was electric during his 12-point third quarter, in which the Bulls were their best selves. Despite a poor first quarter, but Bulls hung around long enough to counterpunch in the third frame, outscoring the Grizzlies 36-23.
The key to all of this was Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls big man finished with 28 points (12-of-26 shooting), 17 rebounds and six assists. Vucevic was the engine that made everything hum. Through fast-paced, quick-hitting offensive possessions and mistake-free basketball, the Bulls clawed back from down 15 to take a lead into the fourth quarter.
There is no denying the fact that Vucevic was the Bulls best player Tuesday night. They played their best basketball when they were playing through him. And when they moved away from him, they devolved back into the worst version of themselves. They scored only 14 points on 19 shots and turned the ball over four times in the fourth quarter.
This game was a microcosm of everything this group has proven to be dating back to last season. It was a one-game sample that is emblematic of every struggle that plagues the Bulls: 20 percent three-point shooting, 18 turnovers and 67 percent free-throw shooting, two areas that would have been solved by an overreliance on DeRozan, but were exposed without him in the lineup.
The Bulls fell victim to another fast, athletic team. They got lucky with low (33.3 percent) opponent three-point efficiency and went away from the things that worked in time for a bogged-down, late-game collapse.
This game was the epitome of the Bulls inconsistency. Yes, there have been flashes, but not enough to rely on.
But this loss is yet another data point that reinforces what we already know about this team. They have talent and the capability to play at a high level, but structural flaws that prevent them from doing so. We’re going to continue on a Sisyphean journey until Lonzo Ball magically recovers and/or the front office takes action prior to the NBA Trade Deadline.
Maybe something happens, maybe it won’t. I have my Shams and Woj Twitter notifications on. I’ve turned off my screen time monitor so I don’t feel guilty about how much I’ll be staring at my computer.
And I’ll be ready and waiting to see what happens before Thursday at 2:00 pm.
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