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."

Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Zach LaVine continues All-Star push with historic outing against Cavaliers

Forget statement games, Zach LaVine is having a statement month. 

In 10 January games, the Bulls’ 6-foot-6 messiah is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA, averaging 30.6 points on 50% shooting (22.8 attempts). 

To borrow a word from Jim Boylen, his latest installment — 42 points on 19-for-31 shooting in a game the Bulls clawed back from down 19 in the second half to topple the Cavaliers 118-116 — was “herculean.”

“If that's not an all-star performance I don't know what is,” Boylen said. “He’s been a monster, man. He’s been a monster.”

To LaVine, there isn’t much supernatural about these types of nights; he’s been preaching his confidence and readiness to carry this team since day one. LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth quarter, and on a night he conceded his legs were a tad worn, he attempted only six 3-pointers, instead finding most of his offense in the midrange and at the rim.

“Make or break time, we're not gonna get back in the game by just playing nicely. So I'm gonna attack their body, try to make them make a call. Had some tough finishes, made some tough shots, but I take that upon myself,” LaVine said. 

“Just playing the right way,” he added of his recent torrid streak. “I expect to. I put the work in for it.”

But All-Star berths and widespread acclaim aren’t dolled out based on individual point totals, alone, regardless of how effortless LaVine’s prolificity looks at times. And LaVine knows that. Casting the 42 points aside, he also finished the night with a team-high six rebounds, five steals and three assists. He was all-encompassing. Michael Jordan is the only player in Bulls history to post a line with those minimums in a game.

His contributions to a tightly clamped Bulls defense in the fourth were note-worthy for a player that's often advertised his motivation to grow as a two-way, all-around player. And most importantly, the game ended in victory.

“He [LaVine] wants to win. And he knows in order to win you gotta do multiple things in this league and I feel like he did that tonight,” Kris Dunn said. “He was guarding today, scoring the ball, getting rebounds, getting guys involved. We need that from him.”

LaVine lauded the Bulls’ new-look closing lineup of he, Dunn, Tomas Satoransky, Chandler Hutchison and Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls ventured to switch pick-and-rolls with that lineup late, as opposed to their usual blitzing, and outscored the Cavaliers 31-14 in the final period while forcing 10 turnovers.

“We made a lot of defensive stops, we got in transition. Chandler [Hutchison] came in and made some really big plays. Kris Dunn on the defensive end was incredible,” LaVine said. “And that helped me even recently get in some passing lanes. We put it together in the fourth.”

Tonight marked LaVine’s third 40-point game of the season and tenth straight with more than 20. His 31 field goal attempts were a season-high, three more than he hoisted in his record smashing 49-point night in Charlotte. Night in, night out, the on-court production and responsibility acceptance is there. But behind the scenes, he’s ever-improving, as well.

“He's been talking in the huddles, he's been chattering, he's been locked in,” Boylen said. “He's bouncing back from maybe a poor moment or a bad stretch. He's bouncing back now, he's not playing backward at all. And that's what the great ones do.”

“I stepped into this year from the get-go using my voice more, and you know, I've never been a real vocal person but you know, when I say something I think my voice carries weight,” LaVine added.

LaVine isn’t getting ahead of himself. He called this win — however exhilarating — an “ugly” one and lamented the familiar lackluster play that dug the Bulls their 18-point halftime deficit to begin with.

Still, the statements are piling up. If his overall outing wasn’t enough, LaVine offered another one to the United Center crowd after his final bucket of the evening, an and-one finish through Collin Sexton with 16 seconds remaining to put him over 40 points and the Bulls ahead by four.

What did he say?

“You want the explicit version or the PG-13?” LaVine said with a chuckle. “This my stuff.” 

Continuing to stuff stat sheets, as he has been, is going to make All-Star jurors’ lives that much more difficult.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine makes All-Star statement in win over Cavs


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine makes All-Star statement in win over Cavs

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 118-116 win over the Cavs.

1:00        On Zach LaVine and his 42 point effort

2:00        Big Dave does LaVine highlites

4:20        Viewer comment on how much of a boost LaVine will get to his All-Star bid

7:30        On the new lineup in the 4th quarter

8:20        Viewer question on LaVine being the #1 option on a winning team

11:30     Viewer comment on if LaVine can lead Bulls into playoffs

14:45     Viewer comment on Markkanen in the 2nd half

16:30     On Boylen’s timeout usage at the end of the game

18:45     Breaking news: Kendall Gill wants to know if Matt Peck saw what Derrick Rose did tonight

21:45     Viewer comment on Bulls waking up in the 4th quarter

23:30     Viewer comment on if Thibs was coaching Kris Dunn

24:20     On Olympic swimmer Ryan Held wearing a Ryan Arcidiacono rookie jersey

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.