It's been said and proven that the Bulls can't handle any level of prosperity in this season of tumult, but they've apparently lowered the bar even more as they were unable to handle the thought of prosperity.
Taking a 10-point lead against the 10-man Philadelphia 76ers had the United Center buzzing with unselfish play, easy shots and Rajon Rondo wizardry. About 90 minutes later the slipper fell off Cinderella and life hit the Bulls hard in their 117-107 loss, as they failed to win their second game in a row for the first time in a month.
76ers rookie Dario Saric led the brigade with 32 points and 10 rebounds on 12 of 19 shooting, with two triples. Five 76ers scored in double figures, including an undrafted big named Shawn Long scoring 18 points and seven rebounds in his 10th NBA game.
Jimmy Butler scored 36 with 11 assists and seven rebounds in 42 minutes, but the narrative was the same, as he didn't have enough help on the offensive end for long stretches.
More importantly, it again signaled the reality that the belief this team can make a run for the playoffs with the schedule being the easiest of the contenders over the next two weeks is a fallacy—if the first 70 games is any indication.
"For us to come out with that lack of effort at this point in the season is maddening," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Look at the points in the paint, 70-30; that tells you everything you need to know about tonight's game."
If the Bulls can't take care of business against the likes of these 76ers, they can't be counted on do much against anybody, regardless of how the schedule shakes out for the last six games.
By the time the United Center faithful was on its third cycle of boos when a Bulls turnover led to them having more points in the paint than the Bulls had on the scoreboard, it was clear the night had turned for the worst and wouldn't be turning again.
"Lost balls and rebounds, they got every one," an exasperated Hoiberg said.
They already had a 54-52 paint-to-total ratio and the Bulls committed just three fouls, meaning for all the 76ers activity, the Bulls didn't even touch them or give any consequences by making them earn it at the foul line.
"We didn't guard anybody," Butler said. "The lack of discipline, game plan, whatever you want to call it. The game plan is important but if you're not going to do what the game plan says then go get a stop and nobody will be mad at you."
Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson and T.J. McConnell literally sliced up the Bulls defense by getting inside and exposing the weak perimeter approach.
"Gotta have individual pride in our defense. Try to keep the ball in front of us," Rondo said. "Tonight, they took it to us."
When asked if the Bulls could change course suddenly after the first 70 or so games, Rondo was blunt: "Hard to say. Of course I want to say yeah but habits are habits. You can't just flip a switch, you are who you are at the end of the day."
When Rondo was on the bench with Joffrey Lauvergne, the relative newcomer asked Rondo why was there such variances with the Bulls' play; If given the chance, many Bulls fans would've asked the starting point guard the exact same question.
"I don't know, I don't have the answer," Rondo said. "Consistent play. It's how the season has been. It gets magnified when you lose to Philly or teams you should beat."
The lead ballooned to 26 at 81-55 with 6:15 left in the third and the Bulls looked as lifeless as they had at any point, given the relative lack of competition. They made a game of it, although the insertion of Anthony Morrow seemed to indicate a white flag more than a search for new energy.
"We finally showed up to fight in the fourth quarter but it was too late," Hoiberg said. "We were all over the place and just watched them to continue to drive right past us."
Morrow and Bobby Portis gave Butler the help he desperately needed with a surge that cut the deficit to 102-92 with seven minutes remaining—giving the Bulls a better than expected chance to salvage an improbable comeback.
But with the margins so thin and Butler already expending so much energy just to get the Bulls back in it, they couldn't do more than threaten as Saric probably earned a few extra rookie of the year votes with his career performance.
The Bulls defense, through, was far less than inspiring. The 76ers lived in the paint with guard penetration, scoring 40 in the paint in the first half alone. Rodriguez, Henderson and the rest of the perimeter players feasted on the Bulls as Robin Lopez and Lauvergne were missing in action, leading Hoiberg to leave both on the bench for the majority of the second half.
And with this sobering bit of reality, one wonders where the Bulls truly go from here.