Bulls fall to Magic 97-91 in Mexico City
Zach LaVine led Chicago with 23 points as the Bulls drop to 6-23 on the season
The Bulls are going to win some games. Yes, I'm certain even after they dropped to 6-23 and 1-4 under new coach Jim Boylen with Thursday's 97-91 loss to the Orlando Magic in Mexico City.
But when the Bulls start winning some of those games, there's probably going to be a lot of talk about it being ugly, being with defense, with a slower pace, tough and hard and perhaps in the image the new coach wants to project for these Bulls.
"Down 11 we battled, hung in there," said Boylen. "I thought we shared, got a little something from a lot of guys. It's something we've been talking about. The things we have to improve on (were) we couldn't get a big rebound at the end; got to get those rebounds and loose balls and then execute down the stretch. As a group we have to make one or two big plays at the end, whether it's a rebound or finishing a play at the rim, playing through contract, whatever it is. We're going to keep working at that."
The Bulls got 23 points from Zach LaVine, who carried the Bulls through the second quarter with tough shotmaking when the Magic appeared ready to disappear in the distance with that double digit lead. Justin Holiday added 18 points with some hot shooting, making four of five threes—the Bulls made 10 of 18—and coming up big in the third quarter to keep the Bulls within 77-71 after three.
But no other starter was in double figures with Lauri Markkanen shooting two for 10 for seven points, though Markkanen did make a crucial three to tie the game at 91 with 1:06 remaining.
"I was just missing them," said Markkanen, who also seemed ignored frequently in the offense. "I had a couple of good looks, but then a couple at the end of the shot clock I had to force. I am still trying to get adjusted to playing the game and I just need to get my legs back under me. I'm confident on every shot even though I have bene missing lately, so I am still confident I am going to make every shot. After I made that one, I thought in my mind I was going to make the next one as well. I didn't get a chance this time; maybe next time."
The highly partisan Los Toros crowd in the red bedecked Mexico City Arena exploded with Markkanen's three. But that would be the Bulls last points as with a chance to take the lead after a Magic miss, Kris Dunn was called for an offensive foul on a drive. Dunn coming off the bench had just five points with four turnovers. The Magic then ran an efficient dribble handoff and pass back to Nikola Vucevic out of a timeout for a 15 footer and 93-91 lead. Vucevic led Orlando with 26 points and 10 rebounds. He had two of Orlando's nine offensive rebounds; the Bulls had one offensive rebound, and by Holiday.
LaVine then drove and missed a short floater, and Vucevic went high over everyone for the rebound, the longer Magic outrebounding the Bulls 43-33. Boylen has also gone back to using Robin Lopez extensively. Lopez had 11 points and played 28 minutes to about 18 for Wendell Carter Jr. Boylen said Carter asked out early in the game because he was winded from the high altitude in Mexico City. Bobby Portis added 15 points and a team high seven rebounds.
But the Bulls got zero points in four minutes from Jabari Parker, who had been the team's second leading scorer behind LaVine with 15.8 points per game. Parker had been criticized for his defensive play, and Boylen seemed to back up his promise to emphasize defense by benching Parker.
Boylen said with Markkanen and Portis back from injury, they will take all the playing time at power forward. The speculation had been the Bulls would play either Portis or Markanen at some backup center so Parker could play reserve power forward. Previous coach Fred Hoiberg had tried Parker at small forward, but that didn't seem to work well. Given that Lopez isn't considered in the team's future, the theory was Markkanen or Portis would get some center playing time.
"As a group we have to make one or two big plays at the end, whether it's a rebound or finishing a play at the rim, playing through contract, whatever it is. We're going to keep working at that."
- Head Coach Jim Boylen following a 97-91 loss to Orlando
But Boylen with his defensive emphasis seems to have gravitated back to using Lopez more; plus Boylen likely believes the team needs to get some wins to show results for the work and demands and that there's a better short term chance with Lopez. So expect more of these Bulls games in the 90-point range as Boylen, at least early until an offensive system can be developed, appears like he plans to try to get the team to win with defense. Further evidence of that is the continued regular use of Shaquille Harrison, who played 13 minutes without a shot and had the team high plus/minus.
Boylen said there was thus no room for Parker and perhaps he could get some playing time at small forward depending on how Chandler Hutchison plays. Hutchison was out ill Thursday.
"I talked to Jabari about his role and where he was in the rotation," said Boylen. "Going forward he's part of our team; we'll see what his minutes are going forward. Him playing four is difficult right now; him playing three, there may be an opportunity there. But I like Hutch."
Parker hasn't spoken much with media this season, but he was more candid Thursday than he had been much of the season.
Parker said he was not given any reason for the change, which came the day of the game.
"It is a surprise because I did everything I could in the time I was given," Parker said. "But it is what it is. You can't pout. You just gotta keep moving. I know who I am at the end of the day. I've proved myself. I abide by everybody. I abide by everything that's been given to me. I'm not going to resent that. I just have to stay ready. And that shouldn't dictate the way I work. It's bigger than just playing at this moment. I do my thing to work hard and I do what's expected of me. And I'll continue to do that. That's what keeps me satisfied.
"I'm not expecting it to be (permanent)," Parker said. "Whatever the outcome, I just have to stay ready. I'm a basketball player. Everybody knows. I especially know for myself. Personally, I know I've done my job to embrace Jim as the head coach. I've been nothing but (welcoming) towards him. And that's what I'm going to continue to do."
Though Parker's defense has been weak, he's been the alternative scoring option with LaVine. The Bulls are not getting much scoring at center with Carter and Lopez, and they haven't at point guard. Dunn has come off the bench two games, but figures to start soon and needs to be more aggressive on offense. And Boylen did admit he's got to do a better job of getting Markkanen involved in the offense as Markkanen mostly stood around the perimeter waiting for passes against Orlando.
The close of the game was especially frustrating for the Bulls and the partisan Toros fans as the Bulls purposely fouled D.J. Augustin after LaVine's miss and trailing 93-91. When Augustin made both with 9.9 seconds left, there was little chance for the Bulls, who also were out of timeouts. Orlando pressured on the inbounds and LaVine took an awkward pass near the sideline and stepped out of bounds trying to gain control. After two more Augustin free throws, LaVine's futile drive was blocked by Jonathan Isaac. LaVine came down awkwardly and was limping, but indicated it wasn't serious. He is expected to get an examination Saturday.
"Turnovers have been an issue for us," acknowledged Boylen. "Finishing fourth quarters have been an issue for us. That's where we have to grow. We can't turn the ball over 18 times and expect to win games. Our defense is good enough to win games, but we have to execute better and move more. We were stagnant at times; stagnation lends itself to turnovers. We had fouls on a number of moving screens. I've asked guys to set better picks and be more physical, so that happens. We'll get better at it and stay together."
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