It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings.
To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.
The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared.
But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.
“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.
“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”
For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?
“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.
“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”
Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.
“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.
On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 98-81 loss to the Kings.
1:00 - Reaction to the loss and LaVine getting double-teamed
2:50 - On Jim Boylen saying don’t expect system changes with Markkanen hurt
4:25 - Sabine’s list of things that have happened since the last time the Kings made the playoffs in 2006
5:35 - Viewer comment on LaVine and Coby
6:40 - Viewer comment on Denzel Valentine
8:00 - On the importance of 1st vs 3rd quarter
9:00 - Viewer comment on possible trades
11:00 - Viewer comment on seeing Bulls without Markkanen
14:30 - On Lauri Markkanen’s hip injury and missing 4-6 weeks
18:40 - Viewer comment asking if Bulls should shut down Markkanen
19:50 - Hey Matt Peck, did you see what DRose did tonight?
21:15 - Viewer comment on what to expect from Lauri when he returns
23:40 - Viewer asking the greatest moment the Outsiders have witnessed
24:55 - On NBA naming the All-Star starters
Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: