Sometimes you lose:
Cue Rosie Perez from “White Men Can’t Jump”: “Sometimes when you lose, you really win and sometimes when you win, you really lose”
The Bulls wouldn’t have minded if the Orlando Magic put together an improbable performance, but the Magic authored a ending worthy of their conference-worst standing.
After putting together a gutsy comeback in the fourth quarter, rebounding from an 18-point deficit, they had a chance to win with 15.2 seconds left.
Someone forgot to tell Zach LaVine the Bulls were supposed to lose, as he cut off Shelvin Mack’s angle on the inbounds pass, stealing it and getting a breakaway dunk with 12.4 seconds left to essentially seal the 105-101 win Monday at the United Center.
“He made a great read on the play, shooting the gap and getting the steal,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We were awful in those last seven minutes, as far as closing out that game. Had the big lead and just took our foot off the gas.”
With two games separating the Bulls and Magic before the game, the loss would’ve been valuable to the Bulls. In a league where there’s eight truly bad teams, the Bulls are eighth and it’s a clear distance of sorts between them and the next-worst team.
They’d just rather it not appear that way in the standings, so when Mario Hezonja got hot from the 3-point line and scoring 14 in the final period, there probably weren’t too many folks shedding tears.
The Bulls were collapsing and headed to a crushing loss. But after a five-point lead turned into a three-point deficit in a two-minute span, Bobby Portis hit two baskets to keep things within striking distance.
First a leaning floater and then a triple from a pick-and-pop with Jerian Grant feeding him to tie the game at 101.
Portis scored 10 of his 19 in the fourth, adding seven rebounds and three triples in 26 minutes.
“That’s a play coach runs for me all the time,” Portis said. “I have confidence in that shot and it was open. Coach always says it’s the open shot that’s the best shot, because if you keep passing you might not get a good shot.”
That might explain the 17 shots Portis took, clearly being aggressive on both ends as he provided energy in what wasn’t a well-played game for the better part of 46 minutes.
“It’s a great learning opportunity,” Hoiberg said. “We have to find a way to close it. It’s always better to learn from a win, no doubt about that.”
The Bulls are clearly not yet fully tanking, although they’re straddling the line. Kris Dunn is out of concussion protocol but hasn’t returned. But Cristiano Felicio hasn’t cut into Robin Lopez’ minutes and Cam Payne was still inactive.
They’ll have time to make up the 2.5-game deficit the Atlanta Hawks have over them at the bottom of the East, while the Sacramento Kings hold the same “lead” at the top of the lottery standings.
Problem is, there’s 26 games left and seven teams between where the Bulls are and where they’d ideally like to be at the end of 82 games.
Talk to ‘em, Rosie.
Sometimes you win:
If there’s any solace in the win, for the lottery truthers, it’s the fact LaVine was the one making the late-game play. He forced a bad angle on Jonathon Simmons’ inbounds pass to Shelvin Mack, breaking free for the aforementioned dunk to prevent the Bulls from a stunning collapse.
LaVine was a game-high plus-16, scoring 18 with seven rebounds and five assists in 33 minutes. He took a wing jumper on the possession before and was perturbed he couldn’t come through, so with the Magic having a chance to take a lead, he stepped in—literally.
“I pushed up on him (Mack),” LaVine said. “Tried to make it tough. I bumped into Mack, made an aggressive play on the ball.”
If you like the bright side of things, two of the cornerstones for the Bulls are backcourt players who’ll have the ball in their hands late as the NBA is a guard’s league and neither is afraid of clutch situations.
“You always want to have options late in games, depending on who’s got it going,” Hoiberg said. “Tonight he missed a couple shots but then makes the big defensive play for us and knocks down the clutch free-throws for the second time in three games.”
Kris Dunn doesn’t scare, and as LaVine has shown in the last four days, with his big plays late against the Timberwolves, he doesn’t flinch either.
“I embrace it, you have to get it done,” LaVine said. “Everybody wants the ball in their hands at the end of the game. You have to have the confidence. I think I do. You have to be sharper. You’ve gotta be aggressive. You have to make a big play.”
And let’s be honest here. LaVine is up for restricted free agency this summer. All of these plays go into this dossier to frame during negotiations, when free-agent money will be scarce league-wide.
So if a negotiation can get on the contentious side, winning plays like the last few nights can be his trump card of sorts.
“You gotta play for yourself,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com. “You got front office evaluating you and things like that. There’s pride, you gotta go out there and show your worth. I definitely have something to play for.”
When it was mentioned LaVine had something specifically to play for, he cut off the question like he cut off Mack on the inbounds pass, telling NBCSportsChicago.com, “The contract, yeah. (That’s) Backup, yeah. To show that you’re worth it. Of course.”
In his three games leading up to Monday, LaVine was averaging 27.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for his best stretch of the season to date, capped off by the 35-point masterpiece against his former team.
But he doesn’t want to simply be measured by the numbers, telling NBCSportsChicago.com, “I’m giving you plays. It’s pride as well. At the end of the summer you have to stand up for yourself. You don’t worry about that, you let your play speak for itself. You’re not going out there and playing for money. It’s a big factor in our game.”
All bad teams aren’t created equal, and there’s reason the Magic are angling for the best pick possible because aside from Aaron Gordon, there isn’t much top-level talent on the roster.
They traded underwhelming Elfrid Payton at the deadline and didn’t exercise their 2018-19 option on former draft pick Mario Hezonja—yes, the guy who nearly shot the lights out and pulled a win out of nothing Monday night.
Next to the Atlanta Hawks, it may be the worst roster in the league but they play hard for coach Frank Vogel.
That being said, a favorite NBA commercial comes to mind—something the league could revive for the final stretch as several teams will be trotting out less than their best to improve lottery position.
(Just change the final slogan to “tanktastic!)
Okay, here’s another fave:
And last one: