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Bulls blown out by Hornets in regular season home finale

It wasn't difficult to see the Bulls were going to have a bad day.

The Charlotte Hornets made their first 11 shots, five by LaMelo Ball with five three pointers by halftime on his way to a team-most 24 points. Right handed Hornets center Mason Plumlee in what seemed initially like an act of charity shot his free throws left handed. And made them. By halftime the Bulls trailed by 28 points in giving up the most first-half points all season on the way to another blowout loss, this time 133-117. If there was a bird singing outside any of their windows in the morning, it had to be a vulture.

But no, they insist, they're not carcasses for a scavenger quite yet.

"I always try to be very uplifting and try to see the bright side, but I'm tired of talking," sighed Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 23 points. "We say a lot of words, and we say the right things. But we've got to figure it out. We're not doing that, plain and simple. Everybody, top to bottom, coaching staff, everybody's involved. We just got to do a better job because it's (playoffs) right around the corner. We can't let this happen. It's embarrassing. I'm going to fight; I'm going to go down swinging either way.

"I think we have a lot of fighters on the team, guys who have heart," LaVine insisted. "I know I'm looking forward to the challenge. We've got to buckle down and figure out how to get that swagger back. Early on I felt we had a real swagger and confidence. Everyone's upset, man; we've been getting our asses kicked. We've done enough talking. We've got to go out and prove it now."

It got so bad the always supportive (this season, at least) United Center patrons had difficulty stifling their calls for Lou the beer man, or booing amidst the parade of wide open layups and dunks that had Bulls coach Billy Donovan calling time 90 seconds into the game and the Bulls soon again trailing by double digits in the first quarter.

"To be honest, they should (boo)," agreed LaVine. "It's embarrassing. We're a really good basketball team and we're not playing like it. They know that; we know that. It's understandable. We understand they have our back. But we have to play better."

Chicago's Friday night starters Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, and Coby White.

It doesn't necessarily have to be in the regular season close Sunday in Minnesota. The Bulls now are locked into sixth place in the Eastern Conference at 45-36. Miami and Milwaukee have clinched the top two spots, so the Bulls will open the playoffs either in Boston or Philadelphia.

It's fortunate it's not too soon as the NBA will conduct its play-in tournament for the seventh and eight place playoff teams next week before the full playoffs begin. The Bulls clinched one of the vital top six spots, which was the preseason goal. So that's a huge accomplishment after missing the playoffs since 2017. Even if it doesn't look so much like it now with the parade of recent losses and basically uncompetitive efforts.

That it was to conference leaders Miami, Milwaukee and Boston wasn't quite as concerning as Friday against 10th place play-in participant Charlotte hoping to still move up for at least a home court game. But they looked like potential finalists the way they shocked the Bulls from the start and never let up.

Charlotte had seven players score in double figures, made 19 threes, 62 inside points, 23 fast break points and shot 61 percent overall, 67 percent in the first half when they scored 79 points and led by 37 early in the third quarter before resting most of their regulars. The Bulls got 19 points on six of nine threes from Coby White, who started for Ayo Dosunmu, 17 points from DeMar DeRozan and 16 points from Dosunmu, though 12 in the fourth quarter including a dunk at the close when the Hornets were holding the ball to end the game and Dosunmu stole it and ran down and dunked with two seconds left. Good it wasn't baseball or there would have been some angry milling around.

Though milling around also best described the Bulls passive defense that the Hornets stung repeatedly.

That's as far as I'll go with the corny word play after a masterful post game session from DeRozan, who went for perhaps everyone but Yoda, the Godfather and the Lion King in a series of analogies and metaphors that at least deflected some pain about all those open drives to the basket and threes.

"The past can hurt. You can either run from it or learn from it." -Rafiki from The Lion King

"Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.'" -Yoda from Star Wars

"Take the cannoli." -Clemenza in the Godfather

That last one really has no pertinent meaning, but I like cannolis

Yes, DeMar.

"We got our asses beat; simple as that," DeRozan said. "Charlotte came out like they were playing for something and it showed. They attacked us. We couldn't guard them. They had their way. It sucks, but that's what happened. It's one of those tests we wish we would have had earlier in the season. We had so much success so fast I knew at some point we were going to have to deal with this type of adversity; you never want it at the end of the road.

"It's kind of like going through high school, you're getting all A's as a freshman and sophomore, and then junior and senior year you have AP (Advanced Placement) classes and it's just extremely hard."

As a solid C student I was able to avoid that, but I'll take his word for it.

"I don't know, I just made that up," DeRozan added. "You get what I'm trying to say? Now you just have to buckle down and put the extra work in studying. You've got to take it to that next level if you really want to go to Yale."

Not Harvard? Not USC?

"When you get counted out and are down to your last dollar, down to your last meal, you ain't got a choice but to pick it up and figure it out how you're going to keep eating," DeRozan continued in his roll for the media lacking any Ivy League degrees. "I think that's where the next test for us is at, to see what we are made out of. It's not we've got 10 more games to get it together, we've got this, this."

Wait, he still was getting to the good part.

"Have you ever seen Batman when he told Bruce Wayne to don't wear the rope to jump? I think it was Dark Knight Rises," DeRozan explained.

You know this is a guy you wish you could hang out with. At least go to the movies.

"He said you're not going to make the jump if you've got the rope on," DeRozan related. "Now you take the rope off you've got that pressure behind you; what you going to do? You've got no choice but to make the jump now. It kind of forces you to focus in on a different level; that's just where we're at."

I think there's a message in there about overcoming your fears, and that the strength to succeed is when you move beyond doubt and defeat. Or as the Joker said, "Whatever doesn't kill you simply makes you stranger."

Look, nobody puts our baby DeMar in a corner.

But the Bulls find themselves in one at what seems like the worst time, finishing off this redemptive, feel good season with their poorest play of the year. Heck of a time for the prom.

Sure, Lonzo Ball is out for the season, which is crucial for the Bulls if not rare in this part time NBA season for so many stars. Alex Caruso remained out with his back miseries, still not looking quite as good as Tiger Woods. Donovan tried to switch up some things for the Bulls deliberately paced game of late by starting White and giving LaVine the ball more out of the backcourt. LaVine plays with more pace and penetrates, and he did get off to a good start with a dozen first quarter points. But no one much followed as the team's mysterious lethargy continued in lacking much force or resistance. It hadn't rubbed off on the Hornets.

Maybe because they had a bit to play for and the Bulls basically nothing. It doesn't seem like any regulars need to play Sunday in Minneapolis, though no one was asking out.

The Bulls have lost 15 of 22 since they were competing for the top of the East at the All-Star break and have lost their last four by an average of about 20 per game. And then because they mostly closed the gaps late. It's frankly been hard to believe for those of us who've watched them all season and have seen them play with panache, elan, flair and joie de vivre.

That had to be in a Batman movie.

"I always feel when you play the game with a good spirit the game kind of reveals a good spirit and I think for us at times we've gotten deflated when we haven't gotten off to good starts or we haven't shot the ball particularly well," said Donovan. "We're going to have to work through some of those situations."

I'm sure the players and Donovan probably are tiring of the post game so-what-went-wrong-this-time ritual with the media. I'm actually wincing about it myself. There's not many ways to explain this.

Though Donovan did decide to fall on his sword for the team after the sting of the Hornets (sorry), saying you can blame this one on him. By the way, Plumlee is such a bad free throw shooter he switched to lefty last month. And has been better. No, that's not a suggestion.

Spoiler alert: It was not on Billy, but we have to play along.

Tap to listen to postgame reaction from head coach Billy Donovan.

"Some of the struggles that took place in the first quarter were things that we tried to cover today at shootaround, and to be quite honest with you, I didn't do a good enough job of creating maybe enough clarity for them on those situations," Donovan declared. "I thought we had some blown coverages. We got hurt on some slip outs. It was stuff we knew they were going to do. We kind of talked about it, worked on it a little bit, but I obviously did not do a good enough job creating enough clarity there for them. That's on me.

"We turned the ball over too much and they got out in transition, but I also thought in some situations where we played good defense they knocked down some shots," noticed Donovan. "We were not executing like we need to, and that's not on them. It's on me, covering that stuff in shootarounds and things like that, pick and roll situations, we need to be better in communication, beaten off the dribble and we're going to have to be able to contain the ball better than we did. The technique how we went about doing it was not good enough. I don't blame them at all. I blame myself for not doing a good enough job, in my opinion, creating clarity. I thought I did but I didn't.

"Am I saying the whole game is on me?" Donovan asked. "No, I'm not saying that at all. What I'm saying is – I've talked to you (media) guys a lot about you have to be truthful in terms of what you're saying – and what I'm saying is this is my truth. Sitting over there and watching the game, some of the broken floor situations on coverages, what we covered we did not do well enough. I feel like that was my responsibility. Now, were there other breakdowns? Yeah. Our talk on the court has to be better than it is. There was a play in the second half, and (someone yelled), 'Hey, hey, hey.' Hey hey hey is not a coverage. But I'm going to always look at myself first before I ever look at a player. I'm going to look at what I can do better and how I can help more. We have not played well; you always look at ways you can help the players. It's a collective thing."

It's certainly generous of Donovan, though I have noticed this trend around the NBA. Coaches no longer seem to be able to talk critically to players. Tom Thibodeau is something of my baseline for this, and I can't recall seeing him get on anyone this season. Even the perpetually pouty Julius Randle never seems to be asked to even grasp the rope.

But these Bulls players to their credit were having none of it.

"It's on us," said DeRozan. "We were the ones that were out there. Yes, the coaches help us out with schemes here and there, but it comes down to us being mentally ready and having our natural basketball instincts of what's going on. That's on us and we've got to do a better job having that approach. We've got to take on the challenge because we're the ones out there.

"We're at a point now teams are going at us," DeRozan pointed out. "It was the other way around for a long period of the season. It's a different ballgame when they are coming after you. Before we were going after them. We have to understand that coming out of the gate. We've got to a week to really lock in and figure this thing out."

And you know, make our day. The Bulls can handle the truth because, yes, surely you're saying there's a chance. Now stop calling me Shirley. Just hoping now for a click of the heels and a happy ending in Boston or Philly and not Kansas.