The regrets haven’t started yet but the Bulls can certainly look at the not-too-distant past as to why they’ll be on the outside of the postseason, looking in for the first time since 2008.
LeBron James can certainly put his personal stamp on yet another Bulls elimination with a Cleveland Cavaliers win over the Bulls at the United Center, but sitting one game under .500 and three full games behind the Indiana Pacers meant the Bulls lost plenty of games they shouldn’t have.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg remembers the games well, although he tried to lift the team’s spirits by pulling a clip from the movie “Dumb and Dumber”, with Jim Carrey’s famous line, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”, in reference to the Bulls’ ridiculously slim playoff hopes.
The Bulls must win out and the Pacers must lose all three remaining games or the inevitable will happen, to which Hoiberg’s pointing out several early-season losses occurred before things went haywire with the injuries and unfortunate circumstances that have taken place the past several weeks will prove to be fortuitous.
Pau Gasol remarked about games in December when the Bulls had an easier home schedule the first two months of the season, to which the losses could fall under “Dumb” and “Dumber”.
“Those were the games early in the season that comes back to haunt you at this time of year,” Hoiberg said. “We had a great home schedule in December and didn't take advantage like we needed to. We had leads where we didn't have that killer mentality to where we could close those games out. We’d be in a different position right now had we won some of those games.”
In the first two months, they lost to Minnesota, Phoenix, and Brooklyn at home, along with dropping a game to the New York Knicks at Madison Square, which many will remember prompted Jimmy Butler to call out Hoiberg after.
There’s others that will come up as black marks in a lost season, but losing to definite lottery teams at home left a sour taste in the Bulls’ mouths then—but not enough to change fortunes.
“Those are the things you look back on, that killer instinct mindset that you have to have, that all the really good teams playing in the next month,” Hoiberg said. “If they don't have it, they develop it. It's unfortunate we lost some of those early games that are coming back to haunt us now.”
Gasol, who wouldn’t commit to saying this was a lost season but sounded like a man who wished everyone would’ve taken things more seriously before it turned into an impossible situation.
“Those are the times that guys don’t realize how big of a price you can pay at the end of the year,” Gasol said. “And how much of a different position you’re going to be in because of those games in November, December, January that, ‘Ah, there’s still 40 games to play, there’s still 50 games to play.’ No, those games are just as meaningful as the ones we’ve been playing for the last week or two where our life has been on the line. That’s just a lack of sense of urgency, a lack of awareness, a lack of maturity that we have dealt with.”
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While Derrick Rose was recovering from orbital bone surgery, Butler was relatively healthy, the season hadn’t taken a huge toll on Gasol and Joakim Noah was still active, before his season-ending shoulder injury in January against Dallas.
“If we won those games, even as many issues as we've had, you look at Jo going out, what happened with our defensive efficiency and then the other guys being in and out of the lineup, you can make up for some of that if you take care of some of those early games we absolutely should've won,” Hoiberg said. “We had no business losing, early on, with the schedule the way it was. A lot of those things, you look at the process, are the reason we are where we are now. A lot of that is inconsistencies, and lack of killer mentality we needed to have early this season.”