The Bulls first game without Lauri Markkanen ended in lopsided defeat — 98-81 to the Sacramento Kings. Here’s some observations:
Denzel Valentine played actual minutes
We knew rotation tinkering was to come with the news of a Lauri Markkanen pelvic injury came down the pipe Friday afternoon. That came to fruition. Jim Boylen went 10-deep in the first quarter alone, 12-deep (including some Adam Mokoka garbage time run) by game’s end.
But a pleasant surprise: Denzel Valentine got real minutes off the bench. He checked in with an uber-small lineup of Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Thad Young midway through the second. Then, in the third, he usurped Shaq Harrison (who entered the game before him early on) in the rotation. Valentine finished the night with two points and two assists on 1-for-4 shooting in 11 minutes — relatively unimpactful.
Trade speculation has obviously been swirling around Valentine for some time, but if the Bulls hope to move him, it might behoove them to attempt to boost his value with more opportunity.
Zach LaVine keeps chugging
The first half of this one wasn’t Zach LaVine’s finest. In it, he notched eight points on 3-for-10 shooting (1-for-5 from three).
But he flipped the switch in the third quarter. LaVine sprinted out to 10 points in the first 109 seconds of the second half to slice a 54-44 halftime deficit to 56-54 in the blink of an eye. As a team, the Bulls mounted a 15-2 run out of the break.
The Kings righted the ship from there, but LaVine’s final tally of 21 points gives him his 13th straight 20-point game. Again, not his best night, but even as adversity mounts, the floor of what LaVine can give every night has been established. Of note: Down the stretch, he was hounded by multiple Kings at every turn. Expect more of that, moving forward.
And for that reason, the Bulls badly need more from the guys around him. Tonight, Thad Young put together a solid enough 10 points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes. He’s dependable. Kris Dunn chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and six assists. We’ll get to Chandler Hutchison. But the Bulls’ already bleak second-scorer situation looms larger with Markkanen out for extended time. Of the 54 20-point outings Bulls players have amassed this season, 33 belong to LaVine and 14 belong to injured guys (Markkanen, 10; Carter, 2; Gafford 1; Porter 1).
Tomas Satoransky and Coby White have the other seven. They combined for 16 points tonight on 4-for-16 shooting tonight. I’d look to them first for improved production.
Oh my word, Chandler Hutchison
That’s his second poster in two games. Hutchison has played 20 or more minutes in four of his last five, and all things considered, he’s impressed with increased opportunity.
Tonight, he had 11 points, three rebounds and three assists on 5-for-6 shooting. Hutchison plays hard (attacking the rim), smart (especially passing and defending on-ball) and helps unlock the small-ball units the Bulls will need to turn to more frequently with the rash of injuries to their front line.
Jim Boylen and Zach LaVine were each assessed technicals midway through the fourth quarter, with the Kings ahead by 12. The ensuing free throws and a quick Bogdan Bogdanovic 3-pointer swelled that to 17, and that was that.
Overall, this is a loss that went just about according to schedule. The Bulls shot 8-for-37 from behind the arc (they’re 2-13 when they make less than 10 3-pointers), lost the turnover battle 19-13 and were blocked eight times. The offense mustering just 81 points (12 in the fourth quarter) against this ice-cold Kings squad is disheartening. But those results aren’t going to win you many games.
On to Cleveland for the second night of a back-to-back tomorrow.