Bulls' continued inconsistencies 'an issue of focus'

Bulls' continued inconsistencies 'an issue of focus'

Forty-three games into the season and the Bulls are still struggling with focusing on a consistent basis, specifically against lower-tiered teams.

That's according to center Robin Lopez, one of the few Bulls who did show up in their 99-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Though buzz words such as energy, effort and consistency can be cliche for a team over the course of an 82-game season, where lulls are bound to occur at one point or another, question marks regarding those traits have followed them all year.

Tuesday night marked the Bulls' 12th loss against a team with a record below .500. They are the only of the current 16 playoff teams with a losing record (9-12) against sub-.500 teams. That .428 win percentage is far worse than the .703 win percentage the remaining 15 playoff teams have against such opponents.

"I really think it's an issue of focus," said Lopez, who had 21 points and five rebounds in 36 minutes against the Mavericks. "I think against the good teams we've displayed that focus. We're a little more keen because we're afraid of losing to good teams. There are moments I think where we take certain situations for granted and we have mental lapses.

"I'm not going to go out there and question anybody's effort," he said. "I think we're all busting our asses. But focus is something a little bit different. That's something all of us can be a little bit more consistent with."

Those inconsistencies that dropped the Bulls (21-22) below .500 for the fourth time this season are more frustrating because of their continued successes against the league's elite teams. Just 43 games in, the Bulls have wins over Cleveland (twice), Toronto, San Antonio, Memphis, Utah and Boston.

"We're afraid of losing to good teams in a good way," Lopez clarified. "I think it's a good fear. You go in against the Cavs or somebody, the champs, and you have that fear in your gut. That's a natural instinct. That's a good fear to have because it drives you to stay focused and to be prepared.

"I don't think we have that fear or level of respect at times for other (lesser) opponents."

Focus may be a factor in the Bulls' recent woes against bottom feeders, but so too has production from the second unit. A year-long issue reared itself on Tuesday when the reserves lost the lead in the second quarter that allowed Dallas to take a lead into halftime. The reserves shot 8-for-23 and had almost as many personal fouls (14) as they did rebounds (16) in 90 combined minutes. Though Doug McDermott tied the game at 96-96 in the final minute, the second-quarter struggles from than unit loomed large in a game that was decided in the final seconds.

The bench has been a bit of a revolving door in the past few weeks. With both Denzel Valentine and Nikola Mirotic battling illnesses, and Taj Gibson missing Tuesday's contest with a sprained ankle - he'll play Friday in Atlanta - Hoiberg has had to adjust on the fly, and playing time has been sporadic because of it.

"We do have so many young guys on that bench, and all of them at some point over the course of the year have given us good minutes," Hoiberg said. "You've just got to try to find the right combinations to put out there. It's something that we'll continue to juggle until we find the right group and the right mix out there coming off the bench."

Still, little victories like the Bulls fighting back in the third quarter from 13 down and eventually take the lead early in the fourth quarter proved to Hoiberg that there's enough talent on the team to show it on a more consistent basis. With seven games against teams with winning records before the All-Star break, the Bulls will need to show that effort more frequently as they fight for positioning at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

"Keep working on it, keep harping on what's important out there. And again, (in the) second half we did it. I told our guys they screwed up. They showed me that they can do it," Hoiberg said. "It's 48 minutes, it's consistency. And we'll keep working on it."

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.