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Bulls can't overcome Jazz's hot shooting, fall in Utah 125-110

Look out below? That thump you may have heard late Wednesday night was the Bulls landing hard in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, just two games from the play-in tournament with the Bulls 125-110 loss to the Utah Jazz.

But if at first you don't succeed... skydiving isn't for you?

And the hits may just keep coming with the Bulls on the road most of this month, Friday playing league leading Phoenix before a back to back early next week with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks and the fast charging Toronto Raptors, who moved into a tie with Cleveland for sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Hey, it could be worse. They're not LeBron.

"This is what we have to go through," counseled Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "I've been around teams where you are getting to the point of the season we're in and trying to play in these meaningful games and have really never been before and, ‘Oh, this is easy.' It's just not. We're going to have to figure that part of it out."

Like going to a book store and asking where the self-help section is and being told it would defeat the whole purpose if it were disclosed.

"This game was a lot closer than the score (suggested)," insisted Zach LaVine, who was terrific with 33 points, five three pointers and five assists. "A couple of runs here and there can break a game open. We had our opportunities. We came out and fought, but we made too many mistakes that didn't allow us to win the game. We have to start getting the confidence of beating these guys (best teams). Our margin of error is not big. We're competing, we're close. But we're not getting the win, and that's what matters the most. We have to figure out what that factor is to help us get over the hump.

"We've got to do it as a team," said LaVine, "keep chipping away."

Zach LaVine finished with 33 points on 11-for-20 shooting against Utah on Wednesday.

But even though the Bulls remain 41-28 and just two and a half games out of second place in the Eastern Conference, their wonderful season that was looking like the best thing since sliced bread—by the way, what was the best thing before that?—may be getting at least lightly toasted.

C'mon, a least a smile with some of that? It's not all bad news.

The Bulls in their most difficult stretch of the season after a brilliant run to the All-Star break have lost seven of nine and seven of their last 10 road games. But they received some hopeful news when Donovan revealed before the game that Patrick Williams, feared out for the season after wrist surgery, is cleared for contact and likely will work out or play with the Windy City Bulls this weekend and perhaps could play next week.

But Donovan after the game admitted he removed LaVine with 4:38 left less for the 18-point Bulls deficit at the time than he saw LaVine limping on his troublesome left knee. Donovan said LaVine told him he was fine and LaVine indicated he expects to play in Phoenix Friday. Alex Caruso, however, seemed to have issues with his surgically repaired right wrist. He continued to make uncharacteristic turnovers—seven in the last two games—and admitted the wrist was sore after being hit repeated times. Caruso said the wrist is healed, but admitted his rehabilitation schedule was expedited. Also, given the intense way he plays he perhaps is more vulnerable to such blows.

"It's just going to take time," Caruso said. "We took a very aggressive rehab and rampup up schedule so I could get back with the team and try to play; so that comes with the territory. I'm not 100 percent. But I also don't think I'm doing my part as well as I can now. I hit it a couple of times. That's basketball, that's the NBA; it's a physical sport.

"I don't know if there's a concern level," Caruso added about the Bulls current predicament. "But the sense of urgency has to be there. We can't turn it on 14 games from now. I think we took a better step tonight from where we were last game. We didn't execute what we needed to, but I don't think we're far off."

The Bulls will have to hold that thought for awhile.

DeMar DeRozan finished with 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting against Utah on Wednesday.

They got 25 points and seven assists from DeMar DeRozan, but the traps and double teams, show-and-recover strategies that have been a constant companion seem to be having an effect. He started slowly, which is not uncommon the way he tends to survey the game. And the Bulls 28 assists were credible. But the defense has forced DeRozan into more isolations to get to his spots and slowed the team somewhat.

Nikola Vucevic had 10 points and 11 rebounds, though Rudy Gobert was dominant with 14 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks. Vucevic's three-point shooting slump continued as he missed all six. He's 14 for 68 the last month on threes, about 21 percent.

Ayo Dosunmu had 15 points and Coby White 12, but Donovan said the Jazz guards obliterated the Bulls' perimeter play throughout the game off pick and roll and off the dribble.

"Our guards could not get the ball under control at all," lamented Donovan. "They (Jazz) had their way; it all started with the ability to control the ball."

Especially Donovan Mitchell in an all-world third quarter with 25 points and seven of nine threes (trap? stop going under screens? anyone?) with his game high 37 points. Sixth Man winner Jordan Clarkson had 26 points as the Jazz reserves had a 49-22 wipeout.

It was in that third quarter Mitchell explosion when a 58-58 game with 8:27 to go turned in the Jazz' favor. DeRozan had his best run late in the quarter to keep the game in striking distance with four consecutive baskets. Utah led 89-81 entering the fourth quarter.

And it looked like LaVine to the rescue with back to back threes and 11 points in two minutes early in the fourth quarter after the Jazz grabbed a 97-84 lead with 9:34 left. LaVine's labors got the Bulls within 103-99 with 6:52 left when Donovan said the game changed. Surprisingly, it was a mental error by Caruso, who was arguing with officials when the Jazz inbounded cross court over his head while leading 105-99.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker made a three; the Bulls called timeout. LaVine missed a three coming out of the timeout and Alexander-Walker made another. That became a 14-0 Utah run that effectively ended the Bulls chances. Utah was 19 of 39 on threes, though the Bulls did show life and activity with 10 steals and 22-7 on fast breaks.

Tap to listen to postgame reaction from Billy Donovan after Chicago's loss to Utah on Wednesday night.

"Even with all that in the third quarter, we were OK," Donovan insisted. "I'm not saying we were in great shape, but there wasn't a lot of distance. I thought the game changed on the side out of bounds play. The ball got skipped across the floor. It's a six-point game. It went to nine. We did not rotate correctly (on their next possession) and it was another three."

The Bulls missing five shots with a turnover in that stretch soon brought Tony Bradley and Matt Thomas out of warmups.

But there is a month left, and the Bulls still remain in good position to finish in that top six. So Donovan waxed a bit philosophical about this learning experience for, after all, this brand new team.

"This is not an experienced group in those situations," Donovan pointed out. "Some of these guys have got to learn. Coby is learning in these situations; Ayo is going to have to learn. Zach, it's the first time in this position looking to play after the season. We have some guys, DeMar and Alex and Tristan (Thompson) talk about their experiences. But it is not like when you go through the experience.

"I think our guys are trying hard, they don't give up, they battle, they fight," said Donovan. "But there is an experience component we're going through. What happens is I always say when you are trying to achieve something or accomplish or get somewhere, in the moment of difficulty you find out how important it is to you. I'm sure a lot of these guys are saying, ‘This is a lot harder than I thought it was.' It is, but you're going to continue to fight together and keep getting better and try and grow and improve. I know this is something we have to go through and lean into it and take it on."

It's always darkest before the dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it. Hey, are there still newspapers? See, it could be worse.