Bulls

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

With his old teammate Robin Lopez in front of him and his feet at the United Center sign on the floor, Damian Lillard threw caution to the wind as he sensed the end was near.

With redemption on his mind and the Bulls on the ropes, Lillard unleashed a long triple that took the air out of the building with five minutes and pushed the Portland Trailblazers lead to 10.

The Bulls got closer but a few disastrous minutes spelled doom in their 112-110 loss Monday at the United Center, their third defeat in four games as they were without Rajon Rondo, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team earlier in the day.

Dwyane Wade scored 34 points with four rebounds and four assists in his return from a one-game rest while Jimmy Butler scored 26 with seven rebounds and five assists but the Bulls shot just 42 percent and committed 15 turnovers, many of them unforced against a defense that isn’t known for stopping opponents.

Lillard hit free throws in the final minute after the Bulls pulled to within three with 18.2 seconds left but his triple was a backbreaker.

It gave the visitors the push they needed after trailing to start the fourth, going on a 13-3 run while the Bulls missed 11 of their 13 shots to start the period, halting a relatively smooth offensive game to that point.

“They made plays, I thought we hung our heads, got a little deflated a bit. You can’t do that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Without Rondo to perhaps settle them down, much of the burden relied on Wade and Butler to create as Jerian Grant couldn’t repeat his magic from their earlier meeting when he scored 18 and had five steals.

On this night, Grant went one for seven in 23 minutes and amassed just 16 assists, five off their season average.

And when their offense abandoned them, they couldn’t get enough stops against a potent Trailblazers team that loves playing fast and loose. Chicago native Evan Turner hit two big baskets during the run, as he hit five of six on the night to score 11.

“Tonight was an offensive battle and they’re better at that game than us,” Wade said. “You don’t want to lose at home. Just not being aggressive defensively. Can’t let them get to their spots.”

It obscured the fact the Bulls held the Blazers to 47 points in the second half and achieved most of their pregame goals: keeping the Blazers from hitting 10 triples, winning the free-throw battle (38-18) and outscoring them in the open floor (26-9).

The Bulls harassed Lillard into one of his worst shooting nights of the season in a blowout win a few weeks ago and he made amends with a 26-point, seven-assist night.

“We allowed them to get to the basket,” Wade said. “Highest scoring backcourt in the league for a reason.”

He looked to start off on the right foot from the jump, taking advantage of Grant off the dribble, and his backcourt mate C.J. McCollum wasn't far behind.

The Bulls’ defense was confused on rotations, allowing Lillard, McCollum and Allen Crabbe to feast early on. McCollum ran around screens and read a slow-reacting Bulls defense, nailing jumpers over flat-footed defenders.

Crabbe scored 17 off the bench while McCollum hit 10 of 19 to score 24, as the Blazers hit nine triples at 39-percent accuracy.

The trio of guards combined for 45 in the first half and the Bulls needed to make an adjustment.

“We want to get up and put pressure on that team when they get into their stuff,” Hoiberg said. “A high powered backcourt, as high powered as you’re gonna play all year. They got free and hit long, contested two’s. That’s what we wanted to force them into.”

So Butler started the third quarter defending Lillard and it seemed to throw off the Blazers’ rhythm. The Bulls took a 67-66 lead minutes into the second half and held off the duo until McCollum’s 25-foot triple right at the end of the third.

Butler wanted the matchup to start the game but Hoiberg, aware of the rigorous stretch the Bulls are in, waited until it was halfway through before unleashing his best defender on Lillard.

He dropped in another two minutes into the fourth to give the Blazers a 90-89 lead.

By then, they were in a dogfight and unable to slow down the hot shooting Blazers.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.