The Bulls had a chance to inch closer to something improbable, but instead laid an egg in Memphis, drawing closer and closer to a spot in the postseason — a spot in Secaucus, N.J., at the draft lottery.
Here’s a few observations of the Bulls’ 108-92 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, along with a random thought or two about the Eastern Conference playoff race as a whole, as the Bulls squandered yet another chance to make up lost ground:
Effort, effort and more effort
Who knows what got into the Bulls Tuesday night, if they looked at the Memphis Grizzlies roster - one that has gone through more attrition than their own (without the excuses) - and believed it would be an easy stroll for another win, or if the season-long malaise continued into the most crucial game of the year.
It could likely be some mixture as the first five couldn’t get much going, with Jimmy Butler going scoreless until early in the fourth quarter. After carrying the Bulls to wins on the road against Indiana and Milwaukee with clutch play, Butler looked out of sorts as Derrick Rose returned from a two-game absence with injury.
Neither could get anything going, with Rose scoring 12 with eight assists and five turnovers. Butler scored just five in 35 minutes, but wasn’t as active or engaged in terms of playmaking.
One question that was supposed to be resoundingly answered this season was how Rose and Butler fit together, but the ill-fitting pieces surrounding the two leaves it another question mark headed into the offseason, whenever it begins.
More central to the effort, the Bulls allowed Zach Randolph to dominate the interior early and late when the Grizzlies needed a run-stopping basket. Too many times long rebounds bounced in the middle of the floor and the red shirts were bystanders instead of participants.
Being outscored 60-44 in the middle two quarters seemingly signified the Bulls’ treatment of their margin for error — not with much urgency.
Too many times the Bulls don’t know what they’ll get on a given night, from who or how. Nikola Mirotic has continued his late-season surge, scoring 20, all from behind the 3-point line (six of nine) with two free throws.
Mike Dunleavy scored five, albeit in just 19 minutes, but in recent weeks, he’s looked every bit the 35-year old he is, often unable to pull the trigger on open shots or when he does, hasn’t hit them. Since March 7, he’s scored over double figures just one time — and despite his age, he was expected to be the glue to the starting lineup upon his return from back surgery. It hasn’t happened.
Doug McDermott made three of five, but he along with Mirotic have become easy targets on defense, especially as they become more proficient from the 3-point line. It puts Fred Hoiberg in a difficult position on a nightly basis, when he doesn’t know who’ll step up or for how long.
Missing in action
Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore were out, as it seems like every game the Bulls are without key players. But again, the Memphis Grizzlies have gone through an NBA-record 28 players this season, and will be playing beyond April 15, even without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, their point guard and center.
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Moore and Gibson are certainly valuable, and who knows how the Bulls will treat Gibson’s rib injury from here on considering how painful it is. One wonders if he’ll play a game for the rest of the season, if he should be protected from himself.
Around the East
Oh yeah, the Pistons lost, big in Miami. The same Miami Heat team the Pistons will have to play again before the season is over, as the Heat continue to fight to secure the third seed, battling with two other teams.
The bad news
The Bulls take on the Heat Thursday, and have lost all three meetings by a sizeable margin. Again, their margin for error is nil, and were thrown a half-aired life preserver Tuesday night as the Pistons floundered on South Beach.
The Bulls turned it down, as they’ll likely turn down the opportunity to make the playoffs for the eighth straight time.