There were travels at midcourt. Passes flew into the stands, airballs and shot-clock violations arose and at one point an inbounds to no one found Giannis Antetokounmpo in mid-stride. The Bucks All-Star took two dribbles, slammed home his easiest two points of the night and jogged back, waiting for the next Bulls’ possession.
Another game without Kris Dunn, another ugly offensive performance. It’s becoming a trend for the Bulls, who have now lost four of five after Sunday afternoon’s 110-96 loss. Ball movement was once again an issue despite 25 assists. Sixteen turnovers turned in to 16 points for a Bucks offense that didn’t need the help.
And for the second straight game the Bulls had a chance to push pace and failed to do so, resulting in just eight fast break points. An ugly performance against a Lakers team on Friday could have been predicted. Los Angeles had won seven of nine and the Bulls were returning home from a three-game road trip that included a double-overtime loss and a trashing in Philadelphia.
But the Bulls had two days to bounce back, fix what went wrong against the Lakers and prepare for a Bucks defense ranked 23rd in efficiency. Instead, the Bulls looked lost again without Dunn and will go back to the drawing board Monday afternoon.
“We’re going to have a hell of a practice tomorrow,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have a training camp-type practice tomorrow. We’ve got to get our competitive edge back.”
After trailing by 15 in the first quarter on Friday, Hoiberg stressed his team needing to jump out to better starts. Whether it was the 2:30 start time or something else, they came out flat. Again. The Bulls trailed by seven, and a usually stout second unit allowed the deficit to blossom to 13 midway through the second half. By halftime the Bulls trailed by 19, and that was with Antetokounmpo only contributing eight points. The Bucks shot 62 percent from deep, while the Bulls committed nearly as many turnovers (10) as they handed out assists (11).
The offense settled in some in the second half, but so did Antetokounmpo. It made for an unfair fight, with the Greek Freak scoring eight of the Bucks’ first 10 points to open the period. He finished with 27 and added eight assists.
The Bulls tried to push back, but Zach LaVine struggled for a second straight night, missing his first nine shots and finishing with six points. Reserves Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis combined for 5 of 16 shooting, and Jerian Grant posted a rather empty 15 points and five assists.
It was a stark contrast from the Bulls team that reeled off eight straight wins, and even after coming down from that unprecedented run had won four of five before this losing streak began. Dunn is important, but not the end-all, be-all to the Bulls’ offense functioning.
“I just think we’ve got to find ourselves again,” said Justin Holiday, who scored 12 points on 13 shots. “We just got to try to find a way to get a flow back. Get our aggressiveness back offensively.”
That aggressiveness would serve them well. They finished with just 11 transition points against the Lakers, the fastest team in the league, and eight against the Bucks.
Denzel Valentine continued to be a bright spot on the second unit, going for 18 points – including four straight made floaters that were as unorthodox as they come – five rebounds and four assists. Since being moved to the second unit for LaVine, Valentine has flourished and brought energy alongside David Nwaba, while also acting as a de-facto point guard in some closing lineups.
“It’s going to take some time,” Valentine said of the offense acclimating with LaVine back, “but I think when it comes together it’s going to be dangerous.”
For those hoping the Bulls will enter a free fall and get back into the race for a top-3 pick in June’s draft, it’s headed in that direction. The Bulls are now tied for the sixth worst record in the league, and are just 3.5 games ahead of the NBA-worst Atlanta Hawks. But as Hoiberg and the Bulls have reiterated, there’s no talk of tanking in the home locker room at 1901 W. Madison St.
They’re attempting to build a winning culture, and before any talk of improving the roster and adding talent, it starts with effort. The Bulls showed very little of it on Sunday, and the current trend looks much more like the 3-20 Bulls that began the season than the one that reeled off eight straight wins. The answer is somewhere in between, and Hoiberg intends on finding it sooner than later.
“We’ve got to get our competitive edge back,” he said. “It’ll start at practice tomorrow.”