PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Bulls are not sugarcoating how badly their last matchup with the Golden State Warriors went.
“It was a blowout,” Zach LaVine said of the Oct. 29 loss at the United Center, a 149-124 beatdown that was staggering even by the standards of the two-time defending champions. Klay Thompson scored 52 points in just 26 minutes of floor time while setting the NBA’s single-game record by drilling 14 three-pointers. As a team, Golden State put up 92 points in the first half, the second-highest single-half total in NBA history.
For a Bulls team halfway through a season that’s all but over at 10-31, it would be a victory to simply avoid a repeat of that historically futile outing when they face off with the Warriors again in Oakland on Friday.
This version of the Warriors is not nearly as dominant as they were in the previous four seasons — they’re still the runaway favorites to make their fifth straight trip to the Finals until someone actually knocks them out, but at 27-14, their record is by far the most ordinary it’s been during this unprecedented half-decade run.
Not that that will likely matter much when it comes to a Bulls team that’s struggled all season to put together consistent 48-minute performances.
Down year or not, the Warriors are still trotting out a starting lineup featuring Thompson, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green; the Bulls, meanwhile, are playing long stretches with the likes of Shaquille Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono on the court.
They hung around for much of Wednesday’s 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers before the talent gap became too much to overcome down the stretch. That’s been their story the whole season, and it’s never been more true than against a team like Golden State.
“Any one of those guys can get going,” LaVine said after practice Thursday. “Steph can come down and hit three straight threes, and then Klay, then KD. So it’s tough. But we’re all competitors. I know I’m not going to go out there and just lay down.”
One thing the Bulls have in January that they didn’t have in October is their health. In their first matchup with Golden State, they were without starting power forward Lauri Markkanen, who was rehabbing an elbow injury, as well as backup big man Bobby Portis, rehabbing a sprained MCL. Various key rotation players, from Portis and Markkanen to LaVine and Kris Dunn, have been in and out of the Bulls’ lineup all season with various injuries.
Now, other than Denzel Valentine’s season-ending ankle surgery, the Bulls have a clean bill of health, and that added depth is one reason to be optimistic their second matchup with the Warriors will turn out better than the first one.
“We’re almost fully healthy, player-wise,” LaVine said. “It’s gonna be good to go out there and see what we can do full-strength. We’re still trying to get our chemistry down and everything, but I think that’s the main difference [from the first matchup]. We didn’t have our full roster.”
The other thing these Bulls have is a new coach. The blowout loss to the Warriors was part of a dismal 5-19 start to the season that led to Fred Hoiberg’s Dec. 3 firing. Under Jim Boylen, they’re 5-12, still feeling out his new, tougher-minded coaching philosophy. That process has had its ups and downs, to put it mildly. Whatever the outcome, Boylen is going to use this second game against the Warriors as a learning experience.
“What we’re gonna try to do is respect our opponent and try to do the things that we’ve been doing in the last six weeks and try to do those things well,” Boylen said after practice. “Try to play within ourselves. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel for Golden State. We respect the heck out of them. But that doesn’t help us. We’re going to try to do what we do with effort and communication and competitiveness within our system.”
Even all the talk of effort and teamwork and communication may not be enough to make up for the disparity in talent between these two teams. Beating the Warriors is a tall order under any circumstances, but especially on the road.
“They get their crowd behind them and it’s not a lot you can do,” LaVine said. “You’ve got to compete. The game isn’t over. You might get down 10 or 15 or 20 but you’ve got to still have that mindset of, ‘We’re able to get back into the game.’”