And the hits just keep on coming for the Bulls with another loss, 96-93 Wednesday to the Brooklyn Nets when the Bulls fumbled away a handoff with 2.3 seconds left and a chance to win the game, and another player limping off the court injured.
Talk about your oldies.
Bobby Portis sprained his right ankle late in a fourth quarter that had eight lead changes and three ties and was unable to return to the game. Portis left with 16 points, second to Kris Dunn's 24, and a Bulls game-high 11 rebounds. Portis figures also to get an MRI and join Zach LaVine, out for one to three more weeks with a sprained ankle.
Shaquille Harrison off the bench for the Bulls had 13 points and several crucial defensive plays early in the fourth quarter that appeared to give the Bulls momentum with an 86-80 lead. Ryan Arcidiacono added 10 points. But former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie, who also played for the Windy City Bulls, led Brooklyn back with 11 fourth quarter points and a game-high 27. The 15-18 Nets are one of the surprise stories of the NBA this season with now seven straight victories.
The loss dropped the Bulls to 7-25.
"I liked the fact that we hung in there," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I thought we were in mud a little bit at times and a little stagnant, and we've got to fix that. I thought we battled. I thought defensively we were good. Our guys are competing, they're together, and they're trying to break through."
But Boylen did agree the team continues to do a poor job of involving Lauri Markkanen in the offense, especially with lead scorer LaVine out. Markkanen had eight points and six rebounds, and attempted just six shots. The Nets certainly were aware of Markkanen as a primary Bulls scorer. But too often, like in his rookie season, teammates didn't look for Markkanen even as he had mismatches against smaller players. Though the way the Bulls are playing more slowly now with LaVine out and Jabari Parker not in the playing rotation, there tends to be less movement and passing.
"We've got to move (Markkanen) around better," Boylen acknowledged. "I think he's got to get a catch at times. That's something we've got to work on. I thought their pressure bothered us at times, especially on the wings, trying to get something for him going to the basket. But we need him at 15 shots."
Probably at a minimum, especially now.
Though Markkanen, predictably being the good teammate that he is, said it was more chance than calculation. Markkanen and Arcidiacono attempted the fewest shots among the starters and tied for the most threes made.
"It's still a new system and everybody is trying to figure it out," said the seven-foot forward. "Of course, I think I could do more to help the team. But that's how it is right now. I'm not putting anything on my teammates. They do the best they can. I think we just got to recognize who's got the mismatch and who has the advantage to attack and take the shots. Obviously, Kris is making shots, and he's going to keep taking those shots. I'm not really worried about it."
LaVine was hurt last Thursday at the end of the Orlando game in Mexico City. The Bulls Wednesday disclosed LaVine would be out another one to three weeks with his ankle sprain.
"Maybe another week," LaVine said before Thursday's game. "Hopefully no setbacks. I haven't gotten back on the court yet. Once that swelling goes down, I can give you an estimate in the next three, four days. We'll get it together. It's not like I'm out for an extended period of time. I'll be back out real soon. We still have a lot of season left. We'll get it down."
Though all it seems for the Bulls is man down every time they try to look up with Denzel Valentine out for the season (ankle) and Dunn, Portis and Markkanen recently back from their elbow and knee problems. It's continued an unfortunate period that included Boylen replacing coach Fred Hoiberg and six losses in eight games under Boylen with impressive wins over the Spurs and Thunder.
"I think we're definitely making improvements," said Dunn. "The first half I think our defense was solid. We held them to 40 points. We held them under a hundred points. That's a team that's rolling, so you know the defense is there. Offense, we're going to get guys rolling. I think once we start getting hot, I think we'll be all right. I thought we were playing good basketball. We didn't get the stops that we needed. They did. That's how they came out with the win."
It was a deliberate game for both teams, the Bulls changing styles on the fly with a new coach and without their lead scorer, slowing the game down, and the Nets in the second of a back to back after an emotional home win Tuesday over the Lakers.
The result was a torpid first half with the Nets leading 40-39 and a game close, if not exhilarating, with 23 lead changes and 21 ties.
One positive has been the emergence of Dunn's offense as he returned to starting the last three games after coming off the bench in his return.
Dunn is averaging 20 points and 5.3 assists the last three games and shooting 57 percent, almost exclusively on drives and elbow and free throw line jumpers. He's just one of five on threes in that period, rare for a point guard in this era, though effective.
"Certain guys weren't getting rolling, so I just tried to be a little aggressive," said Dunn. "Usually I don't shoot that hot (11 for 21). I think we've got a lot of great players who can do multiple things. My game is to get my guys going. Today we didn't have it going as a unit. We're going to go back tomorrow, practice and try to get everybody back in rhythm."
The game proved a see saw, taffy pull, tug of war, back and forth, push and pull, up and down, here and there, come and go, ebb and flow, side to side, pillar to post, yin and yang affair with the Bulls leading 27-23 after one quarter and then Nets 40-39 at half. Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen had 12 of his 16 points in the first quarter, exposing again Wendell Carter Jr.'s difficulty against tall, athletic centers. Carter plays good position and reacts well from the help side. He has to develop more of a perimeter game to draw out bigger players and then use his quickness to drive by or shoot.
The Bulls went through a dry stretch scoreless for more than five minutes in the second quarter with the Nets not much better other than Dinwiddie. He has become one of the NBA's feel good stories as a leader for Sixth Man of the Year and the league's highest scoring reserve.
Dinwiddie recently signed a three-year $34 million contract with the Nets, almost two years to the day after being signed out of the G-league. The 6-6 Dinwiddie was a star at Colorado who suffered an ACL tear in 2014, but still declared for the draft. He slipped to the second round to the Pistons and spent most of those seasons in the G-league before the Bulls acquired him for Cameron Bairstow in 2016. Dinwiddie went to training camp with the Bulls, but was released when the Bulls acquired former rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams for Tony Snell. Dinwiddie played in the G-league in Hoffman Estates for about month until being picked up as a free agent by the Nets.
The Bulls took a 48-42 lead early in the third quarter on back-to-back Arcidiacono threes. But the Nets eased back ahead — their biggest lead of the game would be the final score—and it was tied at 71 after three quarters. When Markkanen attempted a technical foul shot midway through the third, it was the first time he even touched the ball. And even when he did, it rarely was with screens or from ball movement, leaving him difficult shot attempts.
But the Bulls looked like they'd take advantage of a tiring Nets team with fourth quarter tag team defense and hustle plays by Harrison and Cameron Payne, Harrison with a steal and slam dunk fast break off a pass from Payne on his back and on the next Nets possession Payne disrupting the play for another Harrison score. Again, the Bulls went ahead by six, this time with 6:17 left on a Portis post up score.
The Bulls still were holding on ahead 93-92 after a Carter block with a minute left when the Nets went ahead on a Joe Harris drive with 43 seconds left. Dunn then was called for an offensive foul trying to set a screen. But the Nets couldn't get a shot off when Dinwiddie held the ball too long and the Bulls got the ball back with 8.4 seconds left. But Justin Holiday botched a hand off to Dunn after Markkanen inbounded and Dinwiddie came up with the ball and the Nets got a timeout.
"We just tried to get the ball to Kris Dunn and he was going to take it and create something," said Boylen. "He's a guy that can do that, he's done it before. He's closed for us before. We didn't execute it."
The Bulls had to foul trailing 94-93 and Dinwiddie made both. The Bulls were out of timeouts with 1.4 seconds left and a full court inbounds pass went unavailing. As did another competitive effort.