Bulls Fall to Kings

Friday was a hard day for the Bulls, as they found out that they would be without Lauri Markkanen for 4-6 weeks before losing to the Kings in the evening. A 12 point 4th quarter from the Bulls saw the Kings run away with a 98-81 win.

And then depression set in…

It was that kind of day for the Bulls Friday. First they lost Lauri Markkanen for perhaps four to six weeks with a pelvic condition, then they lost their cool, back to back technical fouls for Zach LaVine and coach Jim Boylen, and then the Bulls lost to the 14th place Sacramento Kings 98-81. And if that wasn't bad enough, then they had to go to Cleveland.

For a game and not just punishment.

"You have to keep playing," said LaVine, who led the Bulls with 21 points. "Nobody is going to feel bad for you. They're going to try to take advantage of it. We've got guys that can step up. Thad (Young) has played 13 years in the NBA. I don't think he's scared to step in. He thrives in those situations. We just have to pick each other up and keep fighting."

And so goes this 2019-20 Bulls season that is going from stars to star crossed as the Bulls record dropped to 17-30.

Markkanen's surprise injury was diagnosed Thursday with an MRI after persistent soreness hadn't disappeared. The promise of the season and a perimeter shooting game came with the lineup that included Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. All are now injured and out until after the All-Star break next month, leaving the Bulls Friday to start Kris Dunn, Luke Kornet and Young with LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. And Cristiano Felicio being employed as first off the bench for Kornet. It suddenly leaves the Bulls as the giant oak looking like an acorn, an offensively challenged game mostly built around LaVine.

Chandler Hutchison was second in scoring with 11. Young and Dunn had 10 each as the Bulls were eight of 37 on threes.

But it may be too late for any major alterations.

"We have to adjust some things," acknowledged Boylen. "Do we play a little differently? Maybe. I will evaluate the shots we got and what else we had. But I am not going to reinvent the wheel in January or February. I'm not going to do that; we'll see how it goes."

And so it went mostly to LaVine, who was on the way to saving the Bulls for awhile despite a debilitating team hangover to start without Markkanen for the first time this season.

The Kings swarmed the basket for a 13-3 start, forcing Kornet out early for Felicio, who did lead the Bulls with nine rebounds. The Bulls gathered themselves a bit behind LaVine, Young and Dunn with a solid across the board game with six rebounds, six assists and a league leading 28th multiple steals game.

The Kings still led 29-21 after one quarter. The reserves with Hutchison and Ryan Arcidiacono leading got the game tied at 33 before Boylen shook up the rotation and gave Denzel Valentine another look. It still was the Kings by 10 at halftime when LaVine ripped off his cape. His personal 10-2 run to start the second half with Dunn piggy backing five more gave the Bulls a 59-56 lead.

"We came out at halftime with the appropriate edge and we played our butts off that first five minutes of the half to get ourselves back in it," noted Boylen. "I like those positive things when we respond and we react. I thought we did. We struggled to make shots at key moments and they made big threes that spread the lead."

That was with a surge from Buddy Hield, who led the Kings with 21 points. Harrison Barnes had 19 and De'Aaron Fox 18 points, seven assists and six rebounds with a poster dunk or so.

The Bulls problem was the next time LaVine looked up after that 10-2 start, the Kings has two and sometimes three players following him, LaVine even losing his temper once after being bounced around by three Kings in what seemed like a box and one defense.

"Zach's the primary guy and they treated him like the primary guy," said Boylen.

That guy wasn't beating them.

"I tried to begin the third quarter really strong and be more aggressive," said LaVine. "Just pick my spots, when to try and pick us up in the scoring column or get dudes open because I know I have some guys on me. I think we did a good job attacking it. We got out in transition when they did double. We skipped the ball and got it to the corner. We just didn't make enough shots."

The Bulls were still leading 69-68 with two minutes left in the third quarter on a Valentine floater.

"I thought our guys battled," said Boylen. "I thought they tried. I thought the care factor was really high."

But the Kings cared, too, and they scored the last seven points of the third as Kornet and Valentine missed threes. And then the Bulls not so ready this time reserves gave up ground to start the fourth, Hutchison and Coby White with multiple turnovers. Eventually LaVine was smothered into a pair of misses that led to frustration technicals for he and Boylen. Trailing by 17 points with about four and a half minutes left, Sacramento was king again.

"They made their run after we did ours," said LaVine. "I missed some early baskets which could have changed the game a little bit. We held them under their average. We've got to get somebody (else) to step up and I think we'll find it. First game without Lau; we'll figure out what we have to do in Cleveland."

But suddenly there are complicating decisions.

For the game to game, it's unclear how the Bulls can make up the 50 or so points expected from Markkanen, Porter and Carter. Especially with Boylen still utilizing Felicio, Shaquille Harrison and Ryan Arcidiacono as primary reserves. White can get hot from time to time, but he's also going to get more attention. Suddenly Satoransky is staggering at the worst time, four straight single digit scoring games and averaging 5.3 points on 30 percent shooting and one of 10 on threes in that stretch.

It's going to have to be a lot more of LaVine just to stay in games after a Bulls 12-point fourth quarter.

"That's up to coach," LaVine said. "I'm prepared for everything. I'll play my role and do what I have to do with the minutes I get. I look to be more aggressive and assertive at times when I feel we need a boost. At certain times of the game I might (have to) assert myself and we'll see what happens. But we do need some guys to step up."

But now comes the trading deadline in less than two weeks. So should the Bulls be a buyer to tread water until the injured players return with the seventh and eighth place East teams both slumping? Or be a seller to try to add players or draft picks going forward? Look toward the draft? Hold onto a playoff dream when just one streak after the All-Star break could save the season?

It quickly has become a pivotal time for the team and for the franchise.

"Maybe we have to do it by committee, maybe it is a different guy every night," said Boylen. "We will find one and we will figure it out. They'll work and they care. We're in a difficult stretch in the schedule and we've had some issues with our injury bug. We're just going to keep working at it."