Bulls

Main takeaways from the Bulls' loss in Memphis

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Main takeaways from the Bulls' loss in Memphis

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.

[RELATED - Bulls' quest for playoff spot takes hit with loss to Grizzlies]

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.

Who/When/Where

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.

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

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USA TODAY

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

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USA TODAY

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.