Zach LaVine had a team-high 23 points and seven rebounds, but the Bulls could not sustain a one-point halftime lead in a road loss to the 76ers.
The Bulls were grounded in Philadelphia Friday night.
In the game against the 76ers they were also, as it turned out in a 100-89 Bulls defeat.
"To hold a team to 100 on their home floor, we've got to try to score 101," reasoned Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "We didn't do that."
Because of snow in Chicago - imagine that in January - the Bulls' departure from Philadelphia after the game was expected to be delayed until Saturday morning. The Bulls play the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night in the United Center. Cleveland was, likewise, stuck in Memphis following its game.
On the whole, to paraphrase comedian W.C. Fields, you'd rather be in Philadelphia. Though the metaphor, unfortunately, also was apt for the Bulls as they couldn't get off the ground with an offense that was limited to the third fewest points of the season, even with the 76ers missing their best interior defender, center Joel Embiid.
Bulls vs. 76ers game recap
"I didn't like our discipline in the second half offensively," said Boylen. "I think we had nine turnovers. We did have some good looks in some situations that I thought we could capitalize on and we didn't. And that was kind of the difference in the game. [Furkan] Korkmaz gets loose from us a little bit [24 points, 14 in the decisive third quarter; yes, again the third]. Makes some really tough shots and that happens in this league."
So the Bulls, in a rare national TV game on ESPN, dropped to 15-28 with their eighth loss in the last 10 games and fell to 1-17 overall against teams with winning records.
And now the injuries are really starting to hurt.
Luke Kornet played well, starting with 13 points and two blocks. But with Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford now both out to join Otto Porter Jr., that slight offensive margin for error seems miniscule. The 76ers loaded up against Zach LaVine, who still had 23 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Coby White did add 14 points off the bench. But too often Bulls players simply dribbled around until getting the ball back to LaVine with the shot clock expiring.
Much of the postgame discussion was about Lauri Markkanen, who had 12 points, though all in the first half, which the Bulls led 47-46. Markkanen was scoreless in the second frame with just two shot attempts, playing a total of 29 minutes. It's possible Markkanen is being limited because of a recent ankle sprain, though no one is exactly saying that.
"We do have to get him going more," said Boylen. "Some of it is on him. Some of it is on me. In his opportunities, be as aggressive as you can. He handles the ball in transition. He rebounds the ball. Offensive rebounds, he had a couple of opportunities there. He slashed to the basket in the first half and got a couple of great dunks. Keep your energy up and we've got to get him involved. I just think it's a learning thing and growing thing. There have been times he has been very aggressive and he has gotten himself involved. There are times where I think I have to get him involved. Sometimes, guys have to help themselves and sometimes you have to help them; it's just the nature of the game."
The mystery with Markkanen is that he was so much more involved, committed offensively and better his first two years in the NBA. That's changed drastically this season with the change in style of play to apparently emphasize three-point shooting and perimeter-based offense with various players making plays. Despite the priority to increase overall offensive production, Markkanan is averaging career lows in overall and three-point shot attempts, rebounds and scoring despite generally having his healthiest season. The debate around LaVine often is whether he's a so-called No. 1. But where's No. 2? Who's No. 2?
"I know I can probably attack the rim a little bit more often and more aggressively and, obviously, just try to get into my spots," said Markkanen. "I just didn't feel that I had the opportunities that I could really attack or close them out on. I tried to play the system and find the openings. I'm a team-first guy, so I am going to do whatever we need. Obviously, a big part of it is me playing at my own level and that's what I'm going to try to do.
"He [Boylen] goes with how the game is going and who is rolling and who is on the floor from there," said Markkanen, who never displays bitterness about his role or impact. "I'm ready when he calls. I feel like we have a good relationship. We have conversations pretty often. I said it after last game; I've had my good moments and then I don't. I think now I'm getting my rhythm back in my shots, but obviously I can be more aggressive. Still, it's a different system that we're running and there are different spots that my shots are coming from, so it's still different."
To fault Markkanen would be simplistic.
Chandler Hutchison made a nice return from his jammed shoulder Wednesday and was active with seven points. But Thaddeus Young never got much going with four points and Boylen eventually pulled a scoreless Kris Dunn after the 76ers were playing six feet off him and Dunn missed his three shots.
With the offensively limited Cristiano Felicio now backing up Kornet, the Bulls' offensive options are limited with Dunn and an often hesitant Tomas Satoransky. Perhaps Boylen gives Denzel Valentine another look because the halfcourt offense can be especially feeble if LaVine isn't scoring more than 30 points.
"We knew we had to score early in the clock against their defense," said Boylen. "I thought defensively at times we were really good knocking some balls loose, running."
An issue for the Bulls this season, with the focus on three-point shooting, is the discomfort among several players with that shot. So the Bulls have employed a pressure defense to "show" on the ball handler and pick and roll. Thus, the player defending the screener, often a big man, shows a hesitant double team and then tries to retreat. It's resulted in the Bulls leading the league in points off turnovers, steals per game and a top 10 defense.
Friday, the the Bulls did finish with 29 fast break points, though the depths of their set offense was apparent in scoring fewer than 90 points despite a third on fast breaks, a rarity in the NBA.
Satoransky lobs to LaVine for the slam
The 76ers, 27-16, got 20 points each from Ben Simmons and Al Horford to complement Korkmaz's career-best six threes, including four in consecutive possessions in the third quarter. Simmons was valuable in the first half, scoring a dozen points by repeatedly posting up the much smaller Dunn for dunks. The Bulls would later try Young against Simmons. Through Markkanen's dozen points and LaVine's 11, the Bulls had the lead at the half. The Bulls had 13 fast break points in the first quarter to lead 24-21 and even gained a technical foul shot when the 76ers erred and had six players on the court on offense. Yes, someone was open.
Then, as has often happened this season, the opponent took advantage of the pressure on the ball to start the second half.
First, it was Horford, who had the 76ers first nine points of the second half, setting the screen and rolling for mostly jump shots. It would be Horford's first game of at least 20 points since Nov. 4. He was 8-of-14 Friday.
The Bulls matched Horford's streak with Kornet opening the half throwing a lob to LaVine, one of six dunks for the high-flying LaVine. Kornet also had a three and a layup, LaVine added a short jumper and the Bulls led 58-55 with 8:14 left in the third quarter.
They'd soon surrender that and not lead again.
That was primarily due to the barrage from Korkmaz as the 76ers used the same strategy. Instead of the big man setting the screen, Korkmaz, who had been slumping in recent weeks, screened and rolled into open space. He lost White multiple times and then Boylen subbed in Arcidiacono. Korkmaz was too hot by then and made a tough one falling out of bounds for his fourth straight three to cap a 22-5 run and put the 76ers up 77-63.
The Bulls would trail by double digits for most of the final 14 minutes, with a pair of brief interludes to get within eight. Like too many recent opponents, the 76ers shot almost 50 percent and scored repeatedly on dunks and layups in the final quarter, which they did five straight times early in the fourth to keep the Bulls grounded.
Still idling on the regular season tarmac with storms all around.