More fourth-quarter struggles doom Bulls in ugly loss to Magic

More fourth-quarter struggles doom Bulls in ugly loss to Magic

ORLANDO—With little beads of sweat near the top of Fred Hoiberg's hairline, he stood trying to explain the unexplainable, except the Bulls' 98-91 loss to the Orlando Magic was as unsurprising to those who have watched this team go through the motions as it was confusing for Hoiberg to go through the emotional merry-go-round for yet another 48 minutes.

As long as there's a competitive game in the fourth quarter it means Hoiberg's Bulls have a good chance of blowing it, even if the opponent is the 24-41 Orlando Magic, especially if the Bulls are without the services of Dwyane Wade.

Boom and boom.

The only thing Hoiberg would definitively claim was that this recent string of losses don't have anything to do with a lack of effort—although it's hard to say the Bulls have played a particularly inspired brand of basketball over the last several days.

"We're playing hard; it's not an effort thing," Hoiberg said. "Going out there and competing, we've had very good stretches of basketball."

Hoiberg wasn't referring to any critical stretch of basketball on this night, as the Bulls mustered 14 points after they began the fourth quarter tied with the Magic. And the play where Magic high-flyer Aaron Gordon scored on an inbounds play with 0.7 seconds left on the shot clock as the Magic inbounded the ball with just one option seemed to show a lack of recognition that many playoff teams have established through 60 games.

Habits that have truly developed are usually honed at this stage, when the separation between teams with playoff aspirations and those looking for lottery inspiration becomes painfully clear.

"We pretty much knew the low clock play they were going to run," Hoiberg said. "They threw it to the best athlete on the floor and he jumped over the top of our guy and tipped it in."

And perhaps painstakingly, Hoiberg rattled off plays where the Bulls executed well in the fourth—the problem is he did it in a five-second soundbite and had the rare occurrences committed to memory.

"We got off to another slow start in the fourth quarter," Hoiberg said. "We really struggled to score. It gets in our heads a little bit. It gets mental. When you have the last week of fourth quarters like we had…missed a couple open shots, gave them some easy ones on the other end. Had some awful turnovers."

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In each of the last three fourth quarters, the offense has gotten worse each time—and it was pretty ineffective for the first loss in this three-in-a-row stretch when they put up 18 points against the Clippers last Saturday night.

It almost feels like a game of "Clue" with this team, finding different ways to make you doubt their appetite for making the playoffs. Monday, it was open shots that were the culprit, at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Wednesday it was their star going scoreless in the fourth as Jimmy Butler went 0-for-5 after starting off 7-for-16 with 21 points entering the final period. Against the Pistons, he was swarmed on pick and rolls, and the Bulls couldn't take advantage.

This time, their offense completely stalled yet again with errors, violations and all-around confusion as they shot five of 23 after shooting 53 percent in the first 36 minutes.

Aside from Jerian Grant showing he can be a human defibrillator, the Bulls might not have even scored 10 points in the fourth against one of the worst teams in the league.

And this is with Houston, Boston and Charlotte ahead in the next four days.

"Sometimes it's as simple as having a really good fourth quarter where you find a way to close out the game," Hoiberg said. "Hopefully it'll happen soon. Fourth quarters have been a huge issue for us this last week and if we want to have any chance of playing beyond the regular season, we gotta get better."

It's assuredly a byproduct of not having Wade around, with teams loading up on Butler and shutting down his driving lanes, leading to forced jumpers that have a high degree of difficulty.

"No, it's not mental. A lot is on myself, I have the ball," Butler said. "Either score a basket or put somebody in position to score. Don't turn the ball over, nothing they can do about that."

Butler had five turnovers, one of which led to a CJ Watson steal, layup and foul that extended the Magic lead to 87-81 with 7:03 left. The downward spiral began well before that play almost seemed to signify the Bulls were going to add another inexplicable loss to the ledger, considering they held a 13-point lead in the opening minutes of the third quarter.

They allowed Magic point guard Elfrid Payton to run wild, as he compiled a triple-double in the third quarter and finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists, two blocks and two steals.

Evan Fournier was able to find creases in the defense in the paint and on the perimeter to score 20 while new addition Terrence Ross scored 14.

Even with all that, the Bulls' answer to this clue is "in the kitchen, with the self-inflicted wound to the heart."

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

USA Today

How Bulls’ Kris Dunn carved out NBA niche in resurgent 2019-20 season

NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Kris Dunn.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky

2019-20 Stats

7.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.0 SPG | 44.4% FG, 25.9% 3P, 74.1% FT | 14.5% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 26

July 2016: Dunn signed a 4-year, $17,488,287 rookie-scale contract with Minnesota Timberwolves

2020-21: RFA (QO: $7,091,457)

(via Spotrac)


Seeing the ball, attacking the ball and stealing the ball. At 6-foot-3 with a 6-9 wingspan, Dunn doesn’t discriminate when it comes to ripping opponents — he owns the length and physicality to swallow up guards and hang with wings of all shapes and sizes. In 2019-20, amplified by defensive schemes that demanded aggressive blitzing in pick-and-roll scenarios, Dunn currently sits tied for second in the NBA in steals per game, seventh in steal rate (34.1%) and fourth in deflections per game (3.7)… All in spite of logging only 24.9 minutes per contest across 50 games.

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And even in an underwhelming team-wide season, Dunn’s contributions were impactful. The Bulls were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively in 2019-20 with Dunn on the floor than off, and played their best basketball after he was inserted into the small forward slot of the starting lineup on Nov. 29 with injuries to Otto Porter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, going 7-7 in December and bumping their defensive rating to as high as second in the NBA. He was an anchor for a squad that turned opponents over — and scored off said turnovers — at a higher rate than any team in the league by a wide margin.

Most importantly for Dunn, he found his niche, despite coming off an offseason littered with trade rumors. He’s a ball hawk and a bonafide perimeter stopper at a level few in the NBA can boast. A legitimate All-Defense candidate. Just ask Trae Young, Paul George or anyone else that had the misfortune of happening across his path this season.

Areas to Improve

Dunn is a serviceable playmaker in spurts, and actually improved his finishing drastically this season on cut-back volume. But for him to ascend from defensive specialist to truly valuable role player on a winning team, he’s got to find a jump shot.

It’s not just that in 2019-20, he regressed from a 32.3% career mark from 3-point range to 25.9% (24.1% on NBA.com-defined “wide open” long-balls). It’s that other teams stopped treating him as an even marginal threat from outside, opting instead to sag off, hone in on other creators (read: Zach LaVine), and muck up driving and passing lanes. It’s a testament to just how great Dunn’s defense is that he’s still an impactful NBA player at his position despite that deficiency. But no matter how stingy a defender Dunn is, it’s hard to survive in the modern NBA with more than one non-shooter on the floor.

Ceiling Projection

Exiting his rookie contract, Dunn is 26 and coming off a sprained MCL sustained Jan. 31. He'll be a restricted free agent when the offseason begins, but due to his mixed bag of attributes and the Bulls' uncertain position, the market for his services is unclear

As for his individual ceiling: Any point guard of the future premonitions have passed in Chicago. And that’s OK. If he can pull off a Marcus Smart-ian turn as a long-range shooter to at or close to league average, it doesn’t feel outlandish that Dunn could compete for All-Defense consideration as a reserve on a good-to-great team through his prime.


Bulls' Jim Boylen believes he's forming strong relationship with new regime

Bulls' Jim Boylen believes he's forming strong relationship with new regime

In his first public comments on the Bulls' new front office, coach Jim Boylen believes he's forming a strong initial relationship with executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley.

"The relationship has gone really well," Boylen told Jack Doles of WOOD-TV, an NBC affiliate in the coach's hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., with a question and local angle given to Doles by sister station WGN-Ch. 9 in Chicago. "We communicate every day. I think they understand where we were, what we're trying to get to. They've been very supportive and collaborative. It's a process to build this team into what it can be. I just like the fact that we have a relationship already. It's never perfect. Nothing's perfect. You just work at it. Tell the truth. You get your guys to play hard. That's what we're trying to do."


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Boylen spoke after giving a speech at a Unity in the Community event in Grand Rapids in which he continued to show support for social justice and addressing racial inequity. Last month, Boylen participated with Wendell Carter Jr. and other Bulls staffers in a Juneteenth march in Grant Park. And Karnisovas said on a conference call with reporters that Boylen has been vocal in team Zoom discussions on the issues.

"I just think we have to tell the truth. We can't cover things up. We've made mistakes. We've got to own up to those mistakes," Boylen told the Grand Rapids TV station. "It's a difficult time. It's raw right now and it should be. I'm just hoping we can use this moment to be better, all of us."

As for Boylen's future, Karnisovas has empowered Boylen for now, although plenty of speculation about his long-term fit exists. Karnisovas has asked for Boylen's input on player development strategies and potential hires in that department. The front office and coaching staff also have had multiple meetings about the current roster as well as draft and free agency discussions.

Publicly, Karnisovas has made it clear he wants to get to know Boylen and his staff and also watch him in action before making a decison on his future. The NBA and NBPA are discussing possible holding a second so-called "bubble" for the eight teams, including the Bulls, not invited to the NBA's restart in Orlando, Fla. That bubble almost certainly would take place in Chicago and would give Boylen and his staff an opportunity to work in a developmental phase with players for Karnisovas and Eversley to view.

Boylen and his staff are operating as if they'll return for the 2020-21 season. He is confident Karnisovas and Eversley understand the improvement the Bulls made as a young team in areas like defense, pace and shot quality before widespread injuries hit. Boylen has two years remaining on his deal and has a strong relationship with ownership.

"We have a young team," Boylen told the Grand Rapids TV station. "We were 23 1/2 years old. We had an injury-laden season. We need to play. We need to compete. We played very hard. We were a hard-playing team, but we want to keep that edge going into next year. It's hard to do that without the competition part of it. We're hoping we can have some of that."

Boylen dined with Karnisovas and Eversley last week in Chicago. They also have been watching the voluntary player workouts that have been taking place at the Advocate Center together, which last week included Zach LaVine. Boylen had welcomed Karnisovas to the organization in a team-issued statement upon the executive's hiring in April but hadn't commented publicly on the full new regime, which replaced John Paxson and Gar Forman. Paxson, who held Karnisovas' role, is now in a senior advisor role. Forman, who was the general manager, was fired.