Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards: 3 Takeaways from Tuesday’s Loss
Despite missing three of their top seven players, the Bulls managed to fall just 101-99 in a nail-biter against a lower-rung Eastern Conference rival: the Washington Wizards.
A shorthanded Chicago Bulls squad, missing Dwyane Wade for a scheduled rest day and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic to a virus, came up just short against the Washington Wizards in D.C. (after holding an 18-point lead in the first half), after suffering through an extended scoring draught (five minutes of not scoring a point from the field or the free-throw line) midway through the 4th quarter.
They would eventually fall to the Wizards, 101-99, thanks to a game-winning shot from John Wall. After going 8-for-10 from deep in the first half, the Bulls went just 2-for-16 in the second half.
Taj Gibson, the Bulls’ third-best player — and their best active player — didn’t get enough offense going late, but at least was able to pester Markieff Morris into fouling out during that pivotal fourth quarter when Morris’s scoring was red-hot (he had 10 points in the period). Gibson had 10 points on a paltry 3-of-11 shooting night from the field, 12 rebounds, one assist and one block.
At the very least, on this second night of a back-to-back, no Bull played over 33 minutes. Robin Lopez was the high-minutes man last night, and only two played over 30 (Gibson and Lopez).
Why the heck hasn’t Adam Silver wholly ended back-to-backs? Who is clamoring to burn out these players?
But, back to last night. Here are your big three takeaways from a surprisingly close bout.
Rondo’s Chicago tenure is doomed
We all know what happened when Ron Adams had one mildly disparaging thing to say about the Bulls’ front office, don’t we? After the grisly picture $15 million man Rajon Rondo painted of the Bulls staff’s strained communication in a long-ranging pre-game interview (and reports from KC Johnson of a Bulls media member’s efforts to cut him off mid-conversation), it’s hard to imagine the third-string point guard will be with the Bulls when they lose to Toronto in six come April.
Inevitably, Rondo had some of the errant, superfluously far-reaching outlet attempts we’ve come to expect in even the best Rondo performances (including one pass to Denzel Valentine that was so awful, Valentine apologized for being unable to recover it, presumably to make Rondo feel better).
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Overall, though, Rondo actually played well! He converted a lot of fast interior scoring looks (including a breakaway dunk!), and finished with 12 points (on 6-of-13 shooting), six assists, four rebounds, and three steals.
Rondo’s performance probably led to the scrappy point guard again carving a spot in the team’s rotation for now. But come on, he’s gone.
Also, a minor Hoiberg note here — Rondo was playing some shooting guard alongside Isaiah Canaan. That’s a 6’1″ guy who can’t play defense matched up against the Wizards’ 2-guard and a 6′ guy who can’t play defense guarding the Wizards’ point guard. To be fair, it was just Trey Burke, not John Wall, but still. That backcourt lineup is death.
The Bulls would obviously prefer to trade him, but his albatross of a contract isn’t going anywhere without at least one first-round draft pick.
It looks like the Bulls may secure a spot at the back end of the lottery or in the middle of the first round (in addition to their own pick, which should be in a similar spot) thanks to their possession of the Sacramento Kings’ top 10-protected draft pick. Sacramento is in a dogfight with the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers for the 8-seed and the opportunity to get swept by the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs this year.
Point being, the Bulls should have two first-round draft picks this season, so if they really want to offload Rondo instead of waiving him, they could. Rondo is no longer a starting-level point guard, but he’s still a good rebounder for his size with a good (not great) court sense. He gambles too much on defense and can barely shoot a lick, but there you go. He could give the Bulls 15 good minutes a night, and had been a relatively good soldier (even cheering on Bobby Portis at a Windy City Bulls game) before last night’s outburst to the press.
I know I harp on Rondo often, but benching the third-highest-paid player on your team after hyping him to open the season is kind of a big deal.
Hey, at least Rajon Rondo was showing up to these games.
There might be something to Denzel Valentine
Last night, rookie Denzel Valentine looked markedly faster than Kyle Anderson usually does, so I’ll take it!
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Though Valentine has long been written off NBA Rookie of the Year ballots, Valentine could be a big help in giving Jimmy Butler a breather, as he’s more or less a wing, not a point guard. Between Doug McDermott, Valentine, and Wade, Butler should get enough of a breather to see a reduction in minutes and a long-term uptick in efficiency.
Maybe I was too soon to hate on the Michigan State product as GarPax’s lottery pick this season, though he hadn’t shown much to this point beyond two ankle injuries and a frustrating lack of the “athletic” component in Gar Forman’s stated “younger and more athletic” roster-building MO. Maybe he’s actually going to be a player in this league.
Rajon Rondo is not the only Bull who secured rotation minutes with strong play last night. Denzel Valentine’s surprisingly aware defense and dynamite long-distance sniping (he went 5-for-11 from three!) is sorely needed on this three-point-challenged Chicago outfit.
Valentine (!) paced the Bulls with 19 points (a career high by 10 points), two boards, two dimes, two steals and a +16 plus-minus rating.
Keep getting Bobby Portis D-League reps
Bobby Portis remains a tantalizing pro prospect, as he demonstrated with a strong showing last night. On offense, at least, he got badly tripped up on a few ankle-breaking crossovers below the rim by a few Wizards on D.
The 6’11” second-year forward’s confidence and shooting stroke from deep were something to see, as the shortened rotation necessitated we’d be treated to a lineup sprinkled with a generous helping of SummerBulls (Summer League champs Valentine, Portis, Cristiano Felicio, and Jerian Grant all logged 17+ meaningful minutes of game time).
He went 3-for-4 from deep, and a sterling 5-for-8 overall from the floor. Overall, Portis had 13 points, seven rebounds, one steal, and just two fouls, finishing with a +6 rating. He looked really good, playing his natural position of stretch four.
Did he look good enough to steal some of Nikola Mirotic’s minutes on nights where the Montenegro transplant isn’t making his shots? Sure, but it was one game. So, here’s hoping the Windy City Bulls keep a locker open for the 20th pick of the 2015 draft in the weeks to come.
He scored 32 points on 12-for-24 shooting (though he went just 1-of-4 from three-point range), pulled down nine rebounds, made three assists and had three blocks in his WCB debut against the Westchester Knicks on January 7th.
He needs to keep getting reps, and keep getting comfortable playing more major minutes against high-level competition in game time situations. And it’d be nice if Nate Loenser could help him finesse his D while he’s down there.
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