Vincent Goodwill

Frustration, fatigue setting in for fading Bulls in loss to Pistons

Frustration, fatigue setting in for fading Bulls in loss to Pistons

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.

Goodwill: NBA Playoff reform? Rivalries matter, tradition matters

Goodwill: NBA Playoff reform? Rivalries matter, tradition matters

The NBA playoffs are around the corner and although the Bulls will miss the postseason for the second time in three years, they've been a critical part of the league's history. 

If some teams have their way, and given commissioner Adam Silver's comments at All Star Weekend about playoff reform it could happen, the fabric of all fans have known about the playoff system could be in jeopardy. 

Some are clamoring for a 1-16 playoff format, abandoning the Eastern and Western Confrrence Playoffs. 

It probably isn't imminent but the fact this type of radical change is still on the table is a bit disturbing. 

The rivalries fans have come to know, love and hate hang in the balance but they shouldn't. The NBA needs to pull itself back off the ledge and use some common sense. 

But common sense isn't always common...

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Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine take turns leading Bulls in win over Grizzlies

Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine take turns leading Bulls in win over Grizzlies

Kris Dunn stated he wanted to be more of a vocal leader, not just the type to lead by example.

Responding to his coach’s call for leadership, Dunn played a critical part in the Bulls washing the embarrassing taste from their mouths in a 119-110 win over the scrappy Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center, as the three cornerstones all showed why they’re well-equipped to be building blocks for the future.

Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen scored 20 or more for the first time this season, a sense of validation of sorts considering the crowd that wanted the Bulls to play for nothing but ping-pong balls.

There’s still plenty to be settled in the next 18 games, and Dunn wanted to be a catalyst for change—taking small steps in his own way that he hopes will lead to giant leaps in due time.

“I told you guys starting the rest of the season that’s what I’m gonna try to bring,” Dunn said. “Not just do it with actions but be vocal. On the defensive end they feel I can be one of the best defenders on the team. I gotta be the linebacker. I see things I gotta communicate.”

The game wasn’t perfect by any stretch as the Bulls nearly squandered a comfortable lead after jumping on the lottery-bound Grizzlies by 21, only to have Dillon Brooks score 20 of his 29 in the fourth to cut the lead to one with 2:13 remaining.

Dunn had six turnovers to go with his nine assists, while LaVine had a few missteps on drives to the lane after previously finding easy room, scoring most of his 21 from the paint.

And when the offense wasn’t crisp, Dunn spoke up for the first time.

“I’m trying to do my job,” Dunn said. “We’re all men in here. If I gotta be the bad guy, I have no problem doing it. They know I have no bad intentions. I don’t think they take it as me trying to yell and get everybody in the right position as criticism. I think they like it.”

When things got tight, Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen all took turns stepping forward, hitting shots or being active enough as a decoy to free up teammates for shots to seal the win.

Dunn kept getting in the lane, while LaVine hit a deep triple with four minutes left to give the Bulls some breathing room during the Dillon onslaught. When Dunn had trouble against the Grizzlies pressure, LaVine initiated the offense on a few possessions.

“Me and Coach talked about that,” LaVine said. “Some days Kris is gonna have it going, I'm gonna have it going or Lauri and we'll have to be okay with it sometimes. The ball doesn't have to stick in one primary dude's hands unless it's his night or he has it going or somebody's demanding.”

Markkanen wasn’t as involved in the primary offense but that perhaps proved to be a good thing for the future, as he repeatedly got out in the open floor or against smaller players for six dunks, the most he’s had in a game this season.

While he took six 3-point attempts, the fact the Bulls were looking for him in a place aside from 25-feet out shows another element to the offense and their own maturity.

“I thought those three were really good, especially Lauri,” Hoiberg said. “They were showing on him and I thought out guys did a good job of finding him on some pick-and-pops, and Zach set a great screen for him to dunk in the lane.”

Justin Holiday returned to the starting lineup for the second time since the All-Star break and showed how much he missed the action, hitting all five of his shots—four from 3-point range—to score 14 points in 17 minutes.

Holiday was also a key figure as a screener in helping Markkanen get open earlier in the season, an aspect LaVine will have to master as he picks up the nuances of Hoiberg’s read-and-react offense moving forward.

As of now, he’s best creating offense with the ball in his hands and while he was eight of 14 from the field, he added five assists and noted the Bulls have the makings for a dangerous late-executing team.

“Each (team) have two dudes they go to,” LaVine said. “A primary guy and secondary dude they can go to at any time. But it's big. I think we have three dudes who can be on at any time during the game.”

There was plenty of space in the set offense as the Bulls shot 53 percent and had 25 assists on 41 field goals, but even more space when they created turnovers to get out in the open floor. LaVine had one steal while Dunn had three, keying fast breaks.

“Kris is just a ballhawk. He just does that off instincts, I use my athleticism,” LaVine said. “He played free safety. I swear he did. A lot of his instincts come from football. I'm gonna call him (former Baltimore Ravens safety) Ed Reed.”

Dunn and LaVine haven’t played together much this season, despite being teammates last year in Minnesota. LaVine’s injury and Dunn being buried on the bench prevented them from developing on-floor chemistry, and this is their first true chance to do it—albeit late in the season.

Dunn termed his chemistry with LaVine as “fair.”

“We got good chemistry off the floor, we got good personalities,” Dunn said. “On the court it takes time. It definitely takes time. We both like to create plays for others and for ourselves. It’s not just on us, but the coaching staff and teammates. We have to figure it out together. Eventually we’ll get it down.”

LaVine is looking at the bigger picture, when the games in March matter as opposed to playing out the string.

“It's big, especially going forward because we're gonna be in situations like this, it's not gonna be where we're out of the playoffs,” he said. “We'll be in the playoff hunt. We'll be contenders so we need to get that experience for those times.”