Bobby Portis gets big air against Toronto Raptors

Bulls fall to Raptors, 122-98, as they head to the All-Star break

Bobby Portis off the bench led with 18 points as the Bulls pickup their fifth consecutive loss

The Bulls players Wednesday smiled, took a deep breath and let it out. What a relief, finally. It's been one heck of an obstacle course.  After a dizzying nearly five months of basketball that began with a shocking fight between teammates, slogged through a gruesome 3-20 start, exalted for a stretch as one of the NBA's hottest teams with 10 wins in 12 games and then culminated in a major trade, the All-Star break was finally there just after 8 p.m. At last, these hopeful and usually determined Bulls kids could relax.

Uh oh, an hour too soon.

Th Raptors apparently had gotten the schedule and memo. and it did look like in outscoring the Bulls by 30 points the last three quarters that the conference leading Toronto Raptors were playing alone in the United Center. The Raptors broke open the game to take a 61-49 halftime lead and led by double digits the rest of the game in a 122-98 dino stomp.

The Bulls led by Bobby Portis off the bench with 18 points fell to 20-37 with their fifth consecutive loss to the Raptors after 11 straight wins. Toronto leads the East at 41-16. Lauri Markkanen had 14 points, Zach LaVine 11 and Robin Lopez 10. Kris Dunn in his return from missing 11 games with a concussion had eight points and three assists in a limited 20 minutes.

It got so frustrating, usually composed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was called for a technical foul with the Bulls falling behind 85-61 midway through the third quarter. The Bulls responded by only being outscored 8-7 the next five minutes. They trailed 95-76 after three quarters and were quickly behind 103-78 three minutes into the fourth quarter. Noah Vonleh soon was making his Bulls debut.

Zach LaVine throws down a one-hander against Toronto

"I thought we came out with the right mindset and generally when we do that we play pretty good," said Hoiberg. "Their second unit is the No. 1 five-man grouping in the league, and they showed that tonight (56 points). They came out and set the tone in the second quarter. They had 38 assists in under 45 baskets (17 for the Bulls). That's just crazy (yes, both, though he meant Toronto).

"Just a poor effort," Hoiberg added. "The thing I talked to the guys, win or lose you've got to walk in the locker room after the game and look each other in the eye and say you were the harder playing team. We were not tonight, and against a team like that, the No. 1 team in your conference, you hope you come out with a little more spirit, a little more fight than we did. We really reverted back to who we were earlier in the year."

Seen enough of that.

Who knows what we're going to see watching the Bulls after this All-Star break.

"We're trying to go out there and compete every night," said Markkanen. "We weren't able to do that at a high level tonight; we'll try to get back to it after the break."

Dunn and Markkanen go to Los Angeles for the Rising Stars young players' game, an affirmation for the Bulls of the Jimmy Butler trade last June. The NBA essentially recognizes Dunn and Markkanen as two of the best young players in the game. And LaVine as a former dunk champion obviously joins them.

They played together for just the fourth time this season, which will be one of the major storylines for the remainder of this season.

The Bulls will want to examine and measure the development of their young core trio and whether—and when and if—they can be relied upon to drive the team forward. Wednesday's game, obviously, wasn't an equitable test since Dunn was on a playing restriction given missing those 11 games with the concussion. The Bulls were 3-8 when he was out with seven straight losses in one stretch.

Dunn said he wasn't quite ready with conditioning and timing quite yet since he couldn't practice much with the concussion symptoms. But he said he's had enough time off and hopes he will have no playing time limits when the Bulls play the 76ers Feb. 22

Kris Dunn on the move against Toronto

"Little tired, legs started getting a little heavy, but overall I felt pretty good," said Dunn. "When I get back hopefully it will be without a restriction; I want to go out and play with my guys."

He looked good playing with his guys to start.

Dunn opened the game making a jump shot immediately and added a pair of free throws soon after on a drive. LaVine made the Bulls play of the game on a hesitation drive and dunk midway through the quarter—it was only first quarter highlights in this game for the Bulls—and then the Bulls got the three ball going, making three of seven, the team shooting 58 percent overall in the first quarter with seven assists. They then had 10 assists combined in the next three quarters and were one of 17 on threes.

That one was a beauty by Markkanen, though. OK, decent.

"We're trying to go out there and compete every night," said Markkanen. "We weren't able to do that at a high level tonight; we'll try to get back to it after the break."

There's also the question of who will be playing after this period of seven days off.

Vonleh got out there to close the game. So did little used Cristiano Felicio, who has played more in the G-league the last month. G-league two-way players Ryan Arcidiacono and Antonio Blakeney are expected to play along with Cameron Payne, who appears recovered from his foot surgery.

Though it happens that Jerian Grant, quietly, has played his best of the season the last month.

Grant was pivotal in that one good first quarter stretch Wednesday when the Bulls had a 20-6 run to take the six-point lead. Grant's plus/minus for the quarter was plus-12. Dunn had a minus-6 as the only Bulls player with a minus rating in the quarter.

Though Grant takes the curious three at times and isn't a classic penetrating guard, he's played much more under control the last month and efficiently. Grant is averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 assists the last 11 games. He's shooting 48.8 percent overall and 50 percent on threes. He's able to get his shot off well with first step quickness and creates space. Though it's not clear whether he has a classic NBA position, he seems like he could fill a backup point guard role as a scoring point guard.

Which will be among the questions for the team in the second half as Payne ostensibly plays.

Lauri Markkanen fights for position with Serge Ibaka of the Toronto Raptors

With 25 games remaining after the All-Star break, the Bulls obviously are out of playoff discussion. There will be conversation about the propriety of losing for improved draft odds. But it's also becoming a time when the Bulls have to begin to make decisions about players like Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Justin Holiday, David Nwaba, Lopez and Portis and how and whether they fit in the long range plan and with whom. The Bulls have space under the salary cap to potentially add a free agent and could get two first round picks, the second from the Nikola Mirotic trade to New Orleans. And then to judge how Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen will not only play together but what kind of support they will need if they are the start of the ultimate core of the future.

"They got the best of us," agreed Dunn. "Shots weren't falling. Adversity hit and when it does you have to be able to fight through it."

The Bulls starting next week will try to learn who will do that most often.

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