Bulls once again can't finish, fall to young Timberwolves


Bulls once again can't finish, fall to young Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS — The Bulls have found themselves in this position many times this season, and if their memory was working, going back 24 hours was enough to jog it.

In other words, grab the Mylanta.

It's a full-blown trend, as this Bulls team doesn't appear to have whatever "it" is in terms of closing games.

Whether it's mental fortitude, bad luck, bad execution or any form of adjectives you choose to select, the Bulls can't get it done, and Saturday was another painful example, as they fell to the young Minnesota Timberwolves, 112-105.

They now seem to cower in the big moments when they used to rise up in adverse circumstances. The old Bulls used to bathe in it, now they’re drowning in the dirty bath water, evidenced by allowing a 12-0 run after leading 105-100.

“The theme of this trip is finding ways to close out games,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had a five-point lead. You’ve got to find a way to do everything you can, get stops and get the ball back.”

[MORE BULLS: Watch a replay of Bulls-Timberwolves]

But even Hoiberg has to wonder where his team’s psyche is through this 2-4 road trip, as the All-Star break is looming and Hoiberg has to keep a firm handle on ensuring the Bulls don’t mentally check out with adversity.

“You can’t think about what happened the last game. You put it behind you, you learn from it,” he said. “ We talked about it tonight, we’ll talk about it tomorrow. It’s a tough stretch. It’s gonna take a lot of mental toughness to get some momentum going before the break.”

The relative good news surrounding Jimmy Butler only lasted but for so long, as he went back to Chicago for further evaluation on his left knee. Ditto for Mike Dunleavy, who made his season debut after back surgery and played 14 minutes.

Those tend to be forgotten when you lose 11 of 16.

Derrick Rose’s two free throws marked the final time the Bulls saw the ball go through the hoop, only there was nearly three full minutes left to play.

“Yeah, this is the first time, yeah," said Rose, referring to the Bulls’ lack of rising above circumstances, considering they’d done it to varying degrees in the past few years.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls breathe sigh of relief with Jimmy Butler's knee strain]

Rose scored 18 with 10 assists and five rebounds but missed 14 of his 20 shots, including a few inside shots late as the Bulls came up empty on their last seven possessions offensively.

“I like the way we were playing defense earlier in the year when we were closing games because of our defense and the offense was behind. It kind of switched up where it’s the defense that we lack right now towards the end.”

But in this new day, Andrew Wiggins took over late as the athletic bigs handled things early, scoring six straight after the game was tied with two minutes remaining.

Wiggins finished with 21, while Karl-Anthony Towns scored 26 with 17 rebounds and Gorgui Dieng scored 24 with 13 rebounds and seven assists, the common denominator being athleticism and fresh legs, which the Wolves have in spades.

Bobby Portis scored 15 off 7-for-9 shooting but only grabbed three rebounds in 28 minutes.

“They controlled the glass tonight,” Hoiberg said. “Our shots weren’t (bad). Give them credit, they made tough shots.”

“You gotta keep working at it. You put the ball in your playmakers' hands, and you try to get good looks and good shots where we wanted.”

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The two young bigs nearly out-rebounded the entire Bulls team, combining for 30 rebounds to the Bulls’ 31. The Timberwolves shot 52 percent from the field and only turned it over nine times.

“Rebounds and once again miscommunication on the defensive end,” Rose said. “When we were up seven or five points, they got fast-break points from our misses. And we weren’t able to do the same because we were taking the ball out of the net."

The Bulls were supposed to have some guile and experience against the youngest team in the league, and neither team led by more than six for most of the night as the lead changed hands more times than you can count.

When Rose found E'Twaun Moore for a corner triple midway through the fourth, giving the Bulls a 99-96 lead, one would’ve thought the tide turned.

Pau Gasol could've tied the game late with a triple from the top of the key but missed, finishing with 25 and eight rebounds.

The All-Star break can't get here quick enough, but the reality check has just arrived at the table.

Who's paying?

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.