Nov 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Luol Deng (9) dribbles the ball against Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s four takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ 96-90 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night in Chicago.
Well HOT DAMN that was frustrating, fam.
Though Wednesday’s game was a mere six-point loss decided in the final minute (it was tied 90-90 before a Julius Randle lay-in with 45.1 seconds remaining), don’t let the score fool you. It was a bad game for both sides, yes, but it was a flat-out embarrassment for the now 10-7 Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls were playing at home with five days’ rest against an inferior opponent coming off the second night of a back-to-back. The Lakers climbed to .500 with the victory, 10-10, and are without a clear All Star, whereas Chicago boasts two. The Lakers were also sans its best player, D’Angelo Russell.
The deck was stacked heavily in our guys’ favor.
What went so wrong? AND HOW CAN WE MAKE IT SO RIGHT? Read on and despair, dear reader.
Nov 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) reacts after a foul call against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
1. Losing The Rebound Battle
Robin Lopez enjoyed a near triple-double with a career night in blocks with eight, to go along with nine rebounds and 10 points, and Taj Gibson had a double-double (11 points and 10 rebounds) before fouling out at the end of a crucial 4th quarter.
That’s about the only good thing you could say about the Bulls’ activity in the paint all night. They missed billions of offensive rebounds, yielding 11 to Julius Randle alone, and 26 to Randle, old friend Luol Deng, and Larry Nance, Jr. Randle and Nance seemed to swallow up every miss in the fourth quarter, and there were plenty of those. (More on that in a second.)
Julius Randle alone tied a career high with 20 rebounds overall, contributing a third of LA’s 60 total boards on the night. Chicago had just 46. Chicago had just 14 offensive boards to the Lakers’ 42 defensive boards; a grotesque disparity that robbed a team that couldn’t buy a basket of badly-needed compensatory second-chance scoring opportunities.
Nov 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) dribbles the ball against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
2. Depressingly Bad Shooting
The Bulls and Lakers both fell prey to poor shooting last night, with the Lakers making just 40.7 percent of all field goals and the Bulls making a pathetic 35.2 percent.
And before you blame it on 3-point shooting, you should know that while the Bulls shot a miserable 4-of-21 on 3-point attempts, the Lakers only took eight triples all game, making just two!
The big difference was really the fourth quarter, i.e. when the shooting counted the most. Chicago went ice cold in that frame, making just 28.6 percent of their 21 field goal attempts (6) to the Lakers’ 50 percent of their 20 looks.
Do you know who the best shooters of the night for Chicago were? DO YOU REALLY? Rajon Rondo and Bobby Portis each shot 50 percent – Rondo went 6-for-12 for 14 points on the night, to go along with 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. Portis was 1-for-2, because of course he was.
Jimmy Butler shot just 4-of-18 (22.2%!) and had to go to the free throw line 15 times (making 13 of those attempts) to scrap his way to a 22-point night over 40 minutes of action. Robin Lopez made just a third of his 12 attempts. Dwyane Wade and Taj Gibson both had decent shooting nights (Taj shot 44.4% from the field, Wade shot 46.7% percent on 15 attempts).
Of course, part of the problem with these shots was the shot selection. Butler produced an air ball on a 3-point attempt late. People were scrambling to make off-balance jumpers. The ball stuck everywhere outside of Rondo’s hands (Rondo had some nifty dishes, so there’s that at least).
The bench certainly didn’t help with the dumb shot attempts, mitigating the competent shooting of Wade, Taj and Rondo, making just 7 of 25 shots (28%).
Which leads us to our third (and biggest) big issue in the game.
Nov 30, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) dribbles the ball against Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black (28) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
3. A Pathetic Bench
Granted, some of the problem with the Bulls’ horrible bench is the result of missing two key rotation pieces in Doug McDermott (still out, sporting his second concussion of the year) and Michael Carter-Williams (recovering from a bone chip in his left wrist and a bone bruise in his left knee; targeting a January return).
In addition to making just 28 percent of their field goal attempts, the five bench players whose numbers were called took just two free throws. Good free throw shooters like Isaiah Canaan (5 points on 2-of-9 shooting across a whopping 25 minutes) and Nikola Mirotic (6 points on 3-of-9 shooting over 21 minutes) hugged the perimeter and couldn’t get a whistle.
While four of the Bulls’ starters actually had solid plus-minus nights (the high man was RoLo with +9; only Wade had a negative mark, at -2, but he made a clutch dunk late that in my mind excuses him), every single bench player posted a negative number.
Canaan, who’s been fairly decent thus far as a Bull, was -19 on the eve in a bit of a surprise.
Guess who was -18? The crazy-eyed genius Fred Hoiberg insists on playing ahead of my favorite back-up center, which brings me to my 4th and final beef with last night’s nutty game plan…
Nov 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) steals the ball from Chicago Bulls forward Cristiano Felicio (6) in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
4. A Lack Of Cristiano Felicio (and yes, R.J. Hunter)
We don’t know what Hunter can give us, but Jimmy Butler played 40 exhausting minutes in a loss. With Doug McDermott out, his first-option backups are Denzel Valentine (more of an off-guard than a small forward) and… Dwyane Wade or Jerian Grant (definitely not a three).
R.J. Hunter and the injured rookie Paul Zipser are the only other true small forwards on the roster, and Hunter is the only other healthy one. Can it really get that much worse than Denzel Valentine at this point? I know Valentine is the more intriguing long-term prospect, but like the immortal Bobby Portis, Valentine is not ready on either side of the floor yet.
Last night, Valentine wasted five minutes of valuable playing time, scoring no points (and taking just two attempts) and grabbing no rebounds, while making just one assist and using his length to at least help out with two steals. He was -5 for the game.
Grant played just six minutes, had just two points (going 1-of-3 from the field), and had only one other traditional stat: two fouls, an impressive sum for such scant on-court time logged. He was -8. I’m still higher on Grant than Valentine, because he’s a better, speedier defender, but he clearly hasn’t earned the trust of his coach just yet.
So, why not see what Hunter (a DNP – CD last night) can do? Hunter had 19 points over the weekend when he, Grant and little-used backup center Cristiano Felicio (also a DNP – CD last night) were assigned to the D-League. All three actual Bulls had fantastic games, a reminder of just how valuable extended run can be for building up the confidence of little-used benchwarmers.
Felicio had 20 points and 12 boards. The D-League is an important tool, and if Hoiberg doesn’t think Felicio and Hunter have much to offer (which is nuts, considering how paltry the Bulls’ bench has been for a while anyway), why not keep them in the D-League for a bit? These are guys who really might be able to contribute to the NBA-level Bulls.
If it takes some time in Hoffman Estates with Nate Loenser to improve Hoiberg’s confidence in their abilities, so be it. Because we really might need them sooner rather than later.
I personally would love to see Hunter over Valentine and Felicio over Portis right now, since all advanced evidence (plus, you know, the eye test) suggest Felicio is better, right now.
But if that’s not possible, then let’s get them some run so we can see them in games that count at some point in 2016 please.
Seriously, can they be much worse than our bench right now? It’s worth a shot to find out.