After living by the 3 in Charlotte, the Bulls died by the 3 at the United Center vs the Blazers, shooting just 23% (9) on 39 tries. Despite leading after the first, the Bulls were outscored in the remaining quarters to fall to a 117-94 loss to leave the Bulls 6-12 on the season and 3-7 at the UC.
Maybe the Bulls haven't hit bottom yet, but their toes seem to be touching something.
"We had an offensive lineup on the floor and they didn't guard real well," Bulls coach Jim Boylen was saying Monday after the 117-94 loss to Carmelo Anthony and the Portland Trailblazers. "Then we had our defensive lineup on the floor and they didn't shoot real well."
Like they say, there only were two problem areas in the game. You know, the offense and the defense.
Wendell Carter Jr. with 12 points and nine rebounds was in a losing battle against multiple Trailblazers seven footers, the Bulls outrebounded 55-37. There didn't seem much to say as the Bulls dropped to 6-12 with their fourth staggering home loss, the team now 3-7 at home. But media has to ask something and the players have to figure something to say as perplexed as they seem.
"Everybody has to step up to the plate," Carter said as he dug from the bag of cliches. "We just have to do a better job as a team.
"That's all I can think of now," Carter added with a sigh.
Somebody better think of something soon as the engines of this Bulls season are misfiring. And the skies appear to be darkening.
"I like my group," said Boylen. "They're disappointed we didn't play better. We're just going to come in tomorrow and go to work and grow. We missed five dunks, two doubles at the free throw line. We missed open threes I think we can make and I'd like our guys to take. I thought it took our spirit and we have to fight through those moments. I don't think we're not trying. I know we care. Sometimes our disappointment hurts our ability to make a run; that's what we have to fix."
Bulls vs Blazers Game Recap
The Bulls will attempt repairs on the road as they head for the West Coast, facing crippled Golden State Wednesday and then Portland and Sacramento, all teams with losing records. But the Bulls also have been something of a balm for other teams. The Trailblazers were staggering through a long road trip 1-4 before pulling out to a 28-point lead and coasting to victory with Anthony scoring 25 points in just his fourth game in a year.
"He had a flashback night," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 18 points, five assists and two steals. "He's one of the best players ever. I think he might not be the old ‘melo, but he's pretty damned good. He's better than a lot of people in the NBA, and he's still getting it done."
Perhaps out of respect or tribute, the United Center fans repeatedly chanted for Anthony to return to the game late with the Trailblazers were pulling away.
Denzel Valentine getting a rare opportunity had 11 points along with Tomas Satoransky and Lauri Markkanen had 10 points, though Markkanen shot well with two of five threes. But he got just seven overall attempts in 27 minutes. In the second and third quarters, the Bulls were outscored by what should have been a tired Portland team 65-44. Which was game.
It's been a disappointingly familiar script in the United Center this season with the Nets winning also on the last stop of a long losing road trip. There were home loss destructions by the Raptors, Rockets and Heat and the blown late 18-point lead to the Lakers.
"We're not showing up and defending home court," LaVine acknowledged. "Eventually fans get mad at you. You can start feeling it. We have to defend our home court."
It's also been a lost opportunity with more than half the Bulls games so far against teams with losing records.
"We're 2-2 in our last four games," reminded Boylen. "We have to keep playing. We have to come in tomorrow and go to work and then get on that bird and keep playing."
Which perhaps is the best advice and all they can do since these things do turn around and there's plenty of games remaining. Otto Porter Jr. remained out with no return estimated. Chandler Hutchison did return from a shin injury and played in the fourth quarter. Luke Kornet is back with the team after a nasal procedure, but it's unclear if he will return to the regular playing rotation.
Though something needs some adjusting if the Bulls are to sniff those playoffs, which in the Eastern Conference remain very much in view for everyone. The Bulls, remarkably, are just a game out of eighth. Also just a game and a half out of 15th, but no one is looking in that direction quite yet.
"We're pretty good on the road," said Carter. "We're pretty good going into other people's (arenas) stealing a win, so we're going to try to do that in these road trip games. The fact that everybody is disappointed is something I like. Nobody is walking around happy, smiling; everybody is mad we're losing. I feel that shows we all care and now we just have to turn it into positivity going into the next few games and turn it into wins and get our swag back."
"Maybe some of the warm weather will make us feel better," added LaVine.
Shots going in would help even more.
"I just felt it was one of those nights where the ball didn't go in for us and we didn't respond very well to it," said Boylen. "We made 22 (threes) Saturday night; tonight we make nine (of 39). It would be great if we could count on 14 or 15 made threes with the number we shoot, but we've been inconsistent that way. Somebody told me we had 18 threes in a row the second half 'til Hutch made that one. My staff told me 15 of them were open threes; 15 of 18 open threes in the second half. They make theirs and we don't make ours."
Of course, that's also been a familiar commentary for one of the league's poorer shooting teams.
Shooting threes has been a priority of the Bulls offense this season, and thus far it's been problematic. The Bulls rank 22nd in three point percentage. The Trailblazers are a contrast, particularly with Anthony, as they attempt many more mid range shots. Portland made just eight of 27 threes, but shot 51.7 percent overall to pull away.
The statistical acolytes who have begun to dominate pro sports advocate for the NBA shooting primarily three-point shots, layups and free throws. Boylen has become an adherent of, as he says, "the math." So the Bulls seek out three point attempts. The advantage, of course, is you don't have to make as many for more points. Which make sense. But less measurable is the effect on players who are accustomed to those mid range shots and gain confidence from successful shots no matter where they are attempted.
"I thought they made a lot of tough twos," Boylen noted about Portland. "You have to give them credit for that."
Thus for the Bulls more than ever it becomes the ultimate of make or miss.
Then there's the defensive philosophy that has enabled the Bulls to lead the lead in forcing turnovers. They forced 15 Monday. The theory is sound of turnovers leading to transition scoring. The Bulls also are among the top 10 in pace of play. The Bulls cause turnovers with a defense that relies on trapping (double teaming) the pick and roll. But once again, especially after halftime, a team adjusted by passing to the roll man who can then finish or pass to a corner for a shot. Portland tweaked that a bit since big man Hassan Whiteside isn't a good passer. So they had guards setting the screens to slide and pass. The Trailblazers also adjusted to allow Anthony and Rodney Hood, both primarily mid range shooters, to attempt the shots most comfortable. Hood added 16 points. The issue is once the Bulls commit two to the ball handler, it's four against three coming to the basket. And the Bulls haven't always been good in rotation with so many new players and changing lineups.
"It's our defensive coverage," said Carter. "I'm not asking anyone to change it. I just have to find a way to work it out."
The Bulls do alter to switching, though that can produce mismatches when you switch players who are different heights.
"We're always in rotations," noted LaVine. "That's our defensive scheme; we have to play it. We have to do what our scheme is and what we've practiced and we're doing it to the best of our abilities. We just have to get it done. They were making a lot of shots. They were slipping out and getting their man in the pocket and playing two on one on the backside and hitting their mid range and their pull-up. That's the shot we're willing to give up and they damn sure knocked them down; it's a catch-22 sometimes."
The Bulls came out energetic and efficient enough, leading 28-27 after one quarter that included a successful Boylen challenge to a Carter foul two minutes into the game. LaVine continued hot with nine points in the quarter. He couldn't deliver the 13 threes again.
"I tried to play it the right way," said LaVine. "They were doubling me off all pick and rolls. I kept finding the open man. I missed a dunk and two free throws, but I always try to bring something into the game to get us going. We played against a good half court defensive team. We need to get out in transition more. They just killed us on the other end of the court."
Valentine finally got a first half look when the Bulls quickly fell behind 50-37 in the second quarter and made a three immediately. He's five of 12 on the season.
"I was ready to play," said Valentine. "I didn't expect to play. He said my name; just kind of went in there to do what I do. I believe I can bring something to the table with my competitiveness, my three-point shooting. Whatever the team needs. I'm just trying to work hard and control what I can control."
Boylen has declined to say why Valentine had only played 11 minutes before Monday.
The Trailblazers led 62-54 at halftime and then with the Bulls firing three after three, Portland shot to an 81-64 lead eight minutes into the third and 92-72 heading into the fourth quarter. Anthony, the former Bull, opened the fourth with a baseline blowby for a dunk and a three.
Last January, the Rockets traded Anthony and the draft rights to Jon Diebler to the Bulls for the draft rights to Tadija Dragicevic. The trade allowed the Rockets to save luxury tax money with considerations for the Bulls. The Bulls waived Anthony. "I was a Bull for 10 days," he said.
"Their record doesn't speak for how good they are," said LaVine. "They were just in the Western Conference finals. They got two elite dudes; they got ‘melo."
The Bulls? Not so mellow.