The Bulls had trouble putting the ball through the basket on Friday night, falling to the Milwaukee Bucks 108-98 at home. Chicago shot 38.5% from the field in the loss. Coby White scored 21 points and dished seven assists. Nikola Vucevic and Daniel Theis both had a double-double. Milwaukee's Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez scored 22 points each for the Bucks. The Bulls (26-37) will play a back-to-back when they travel to Atlanta to face the Hawks (34-30) on Saturday night.
The Bulls are playing into May. Which once was great news. It's not such great news this year. The Bulls problem, this very difficult 72-game virus-delayed season, is it's beginning to look like they won't be playing much longer following Friday's 108-98 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
With their ninth loss in the last 13 games, the Bulls once firm hold on at least the final playoffs play-in spot is slipping away as the Bulls dropped three games behind the surging Washington Wizards with nine to play. Which gets to their so called tragic number, which is now seven. It's any combination of seven Bulls losses and Wizards and Indiana Pacers wins. In addition, according to the tankathon web site, the Bulls starting Saturday in Atlanta have the sixth most difficult remaining schedule. Washington's is 14th and Indiana's 19th.
"Obviously it's not an ideal position," noted Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, who had perhaps the worst shooting game of his career with 17 points and 15 rebounds. "I feel like if I had personally shot the ball a little better, especially at the start of the game, that would have given us a better chance. We were still right there even though we were struggling offensively, especially me. We can sit here and cry about it and be disappointed, but it won't do us any good. We just have to move on, take the wins and losses as they come and continue to move forward. You have to have a short memory."
Though this one will hurt for a long time if the Bulls can't crack that first 10 in the East.
Vucevic was seven for 27 shooting, the first time in the career of the usually very efficient big man he missed 20 field goal attempts. Coby White led the Bulls with 21 points, though 12 in a desperate fourth quarter rally during which the Bulls—as they frequently do in at least never surrendering—cut an 18-point deficit and 15 with 3:46 left to 100-92 with 2:15 remaining in the game.
Nikola Vucevic scored 17 points and grabbed 15 boards but took 27 shots in the loss to Milwaukee.
But there was no miracle again as rickety Jeff Teague broke down the Bulls fragile perimeter defense for a score and Khris Middleton added a let's-get-Adam-Mokoka-in-there three to dismiss any thoughts about a stay.
The Bulls record dropped to 26-37 with a 12th consecutive loss to the Bucks, who were missing Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though the Bulls were without Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine for a ninth consecutive game in Covid protocols. So it was a surprise to see LaVine in black t-shirt and face mask sitting among his teammates on the Bulls bench during the game even as he still hasn't been permitted to practice. The Bulls said LaVine didn't go on the trip with the team to Atlanta.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan admitted even he is mystified by the LaVine situation and said there should be some explanation early next week. LaVine has been on his social media platforms talking about being eager to play. But Donovan said he didn't know why LaVine could sit with the team during the game after being in quarantine, but not able to practice.
"To be honest with you," Donovan said in his post game comments, "I didn't even know he was cleared to be around our team. That must have been another step that took place. I don't know again what the NBA standards are on that. Most of my talks with (Bulls) medical through their contact with the league has been really more predicated on, ‘When can he come back to practice? When can he come back to play?' I think we'll have a lot more maybe clarity on that maybe on Monday when we get back from this trip."
Billy Donovan reacts to the loss with the media following the game.
Which could be too late the way the Bulls have been slumping and tied with Toronto for 11th place, three games out of the four-team play-in tournament for the playoffs. The Bulls do have the tiebreakers over Washington and Indiana if the Bulls still make a run. It didn't seem it would come to that after the acquisitions of Vucevic and Daniel Theis in late March. But LaVine's Covid complications were a devastating blow. In his absence, the Bulls are averaging a league low of about 103 points per game.
So Vucevic has to shoot and embrace the burden, especially with such an offensively challenged group of starters with him other than White. Rookie Patrick Williams continued to labor in 35 minutes with five points and a team worst plus/minus. Garrett Temple had six points, though he probably was the best perimeter defender with excellent work against Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton. Rugged Daniel Theis had another strong game with 16 points and ten rebounds, though just nine shots as the Bulls again curiously opened the game firing away on three pointers.
Four of their first five attempts were threes, all misses, as the Bulls quickly fell behind 20-9 and 28-16 after the first quarter in yet another staggering start.
As Roseanne Roseannadanna used to say, "It's always something! You either got a toenail in your hamburger or toilet paper clinging to your shoe."
For the Bulls, it's either poor shooting. Or too many turnovers. Or poor defense. Always something, it seems lately. Which LaVine's 28 points would alleviate.
The Bulls fell to the Milwaukee Bucks 108-98 on Friday night.
"In the last few games, it has happened and then we kind of fight our way back, which is not easy to do," said Vucevic. "Maybe just we have to be more focused from the beginning, have a better approach, especially this time of year when all teams are playing for something. You can't ease into games, you have to be ready from the get go. So maybe some of it is experience. But we have to face that. I think it was before when it's your defense you're not in it as much as you should be mentally and physically and the pride is not there. But tonight I think we did some good things. We just missed a lot of looks early on."
There didn't seem to be that many other positives than not giving up. These guys never do that, which is something. But where is it before the fourth quarter?
"I actually thought our level of play wasn't bad tonight," insisted Donovan. "I thought we really, really had a hard time putting the ball in the basket. To start the game, we generated a lot of really good looks. We didn't shoot the ball collectively as a team very well. I'd rather take open shots than contested shots. The shots that we got were good. I felt pretty good about the looks that we did get. We got down pretty big there in that first quarter, start of the second quarter. Our guys fought their way back, cut it to two (on a 15-0 run late in the second quarter led by Theis; remember him?).
Daniel Theis had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
"They closed that last two-and-a-half minutes a lot better than we did to go up eight (at halftime 52-44)," Donovan noticed. "We came out in the third, struggled again, got down by 15 or 18 (63-47 with Bobby Portis torching them), fought our way back (though trailing 80-63 after three quarters).
"Listen," reminded Donovan, "they're top five in the league on offense and they're top five in the league in defense. I thought our guys battled and competed defensively."
Well, there was that Giannis absence, but who's counting with Zach out, too.
"I know we've got an uphill climb as it relates to where we stand," said Donovan. "But we've got to basically just keep battling and fighting."
These are getting tough to take as former Bull Portis starting for Antetokounmpo had nine points and eight rebounds in the first quarter. He finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Bucks 6-2 guard Bryn Forbes had a career high 13 rebounds. Middleton and Brook Lopez each led Milwaukee with 22 points. Temple did bother Middleton into eight of 24 shooting.
Vucevic's inaccuracy was more self inflicted as he was unusually off target. Since coming to the Bulls, he was shooting 51 percent overall and a special 45 percent on threes. Against the Bucks, he was one of nine on threes. But it's been a grueling stretch of 17 games this month for the Bulls, compounded by LaVine's absence. Markkanen was reported ill Friday.
But this closeout to the season is just so sickening for everyone as it seems to be going up in smoke.
Which reminds me about the time Roseanne Rosannadanna tried to counsel the guy from New Jersey who quit smoking. But then he said his face broke out, he became nauseas and constipated, and his cheeks swelled and his gums burned. So she explained about joining a health club and running into Dr. Joyce Brothers in the steam bath and those little sweat balls just wouldn't fall off. You hate that. But what does that have to do with smoking? It just goes to show you it's always something. Not just for the Bulls.