The NBA can quietly and tacitly suggest to teams that they can’t circumvent the existing system of trying to get more lottery balls by sitting good players, but the suggestion can only go so far.
Even though Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez started together for the first time since the All-Star break, the lottery crowd still got their desired result in a 99-83 loss to the desperate Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on Friday night.
It wasn’t because Holiday and Lopez were bad or rusty in their return to action, but limited and their removal led to the final spread. Lopez was having a night early, similar to Holiday’s perfect night against Memphis, as he matched Holiday in perfection to hit all four of his shots, scoring nine points in 12 minutes.
The Bulls had a seven-point lead in the first and led by five, before the two took the bench never to return. One could say Fred Hoiberg iced his own players, after previously stating he’d place them on the floor for two stints.
“It was a little different. I enjoy new situations,” Lopez said. “You get to work on something you haven’t done before. You have to value those minutes and help the team as efficiently as I can.”
Being used as a prop by the league, perhaps in sending a bigger message to other teams as the season winds down, wasn’t lost on Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy before the game.
“I mean the thing is to me the big teams have tried to build their organization that way,” Van Gundy said. “And now you’re going to step in and tell other teams they can’t, and you’re going to kick certain guys? I don’t know. Look, I admire what Adam (Silver) is trying to do I think, but I just don’t think he’s going to be able to control it.”
It took just one before Hoiberg went to “evaluation” mode, trotting out a bench unit featuring Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine and Cameron Payne that obviously had very little continuity.
Only Payne was able to develop a rhythm, tying a career-high with 17 points but Portis went 1-for-10, struggling at getting his shot over Pistons reserve Eric Moreland and Valentine struggled for a second straight game, going 2-for-7.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with effort,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought our guys came out and competed and go off to a great start. They called the first timeout, if you were keeping track.”
Actually, Hoiberg bemoaned the fact he’s had to call the first timeouts in this recent stretch but Van Gundy was the one who conceded first after the Bulls jumped out on them early.
Sustaining it, with not only the bench struggling but Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen showing signs of either mental fatigue or physical fatigue, was the biggest problem.
The different lineups and different combinations are having a bit of an effect on what fans are seeing, as well as what the players are experiencing. It’s human nature to see the frustration—but at least the effort is there.
“We’re gonna go out there and play hard regardless,” LaVine said. “It’s our job to play under those circumstances. It is frustrating a little bit but it’s what we’re dealing with.”
Markkanen scored six points with eight rebounds but airballed a few shots and looked as if the season is finally catching up to him. LaVine was 3 of 15 in 26 minutes, scoring just eight points along with two turnovers.
Kris Dunn scored 13 points with four assists but nobody truly had a positive effect, as the Bulls shot just 36 percent and hit 29 percent from the 3-point line.
“Today, it didn’t seem like anything was falling for anybody,” LaVine said. “Cam had a great game, we competed really good but it wasn’t going our way after the first quarter. It seemed like a lid got put on the hoop. Yeah…frustration set through.”
Depending on LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn at this stage, individually and collectively, doesn’t seem to be as fruitful in the way of honest evaluation. It’s hard to judge in the small sample size what can be attributed to the season being at this stage and what can be a sign for the future.
LaVine, admittedly, was annoyed with the officials on some drives that drew contact from Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin but didn’t earn a whistle. He also missed all four of his 3-point attempts.
“I thought there was some frustration there. You have that sometimes when the ball isn’t going through the hoop,” Hoiberg said. “He’s gotta keep playing, you gotta get matched up in transition, even when things aren’t going your way.”
Griffin was able to get going and was effective from the outside to hit 3 of 7 from 3-point range while adding eight rebounds and eight assists to his game-high 25 points.
He was aided by Reggie Bullock’s 21 as the Pistons outscored the Bulls 78-57 in the last three quarters.