Utah showed why they're one of the top teams in the NBA, as the Bulls were blown out 120-95 in the United Center on Monday night. Chicago was paced by Zach LaVine's 27 points. Utah's Donovan Mitchell dropped 30 points while center Rudy Gobert had a near triple-double of 21 points, ten rebounds, and nine blocks. The Bulls (19-23) will prepare to bounce back on Wednesday when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers (16-27).
Before Monday's Bulls game with the Utah Jazz, the second of a back to back for the Bulls against the team with the league's best record, Zach LaVine had a message for Bulls coach Billy Donovan
"He told me he could (play the entire game) tonight," Donovan told reporters after the game. "He told me, ‘I'll play 48 tonight if you need me."
The Bulls needed him. Because when LaVine went out late in the first quarter the Bulls were leading 23-20 following a LaVine three pointer.
When LaVine returned in the second quarter after his routine rest, the Bulls were trailing 39-23 with the Jazz improvising a 19-0 run that basically ended the game. The Bulls never got even to a single digit deficit in a 120-95 loss.
"I thought that second unit when Zach went out, we did not really have anything downhill," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "Actually, it did not go well."
Coach Donovan speaks to the media following Chicago's tough loss to the Jazz.
No it did not. Talk about going downhill.
LaVine scored 27 points in 32 minutes with Thad Young adding 14 and Tomas Satoransky 13. Coby White had 10 points off the bench.
Which may be part of the problem even if White and Wendell Carter Jr. unselfishly embraced their reassignments to the reserve unit six games ago. The Bulls are 3-3 in that stretch, but perhaps of greater concern is the decline in production for both White and Carter since the move to the bench. With another uneven offensive effort from Lauri Markkanen with eight points on three of 12 shooting, the young high draft picks the Bulls have been counting on haven't been able to count high enough.
A rough night," said Markkanen, who was one of 10 through three quarters. "These kind of things happen. I try to stay aggressive and get to the rim and I think I did that. Just wasn't going in today. That's the game. I think I have to do other things when the shot is not falling. Try to rebound, play defense. Just one of those nights."
Markkanen had a tough night, scoring 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
White and Carter have had about a half dozen of those nights since they were replaced in the starting lineup by Young and Satoransky. The Bulls have generally played better in that stretch, 3-3 with those gut wrenching late game losses to the Spurs and Nuggets.
Young said both White and Carter have remained motivated and positive, even Young said, talking and lamenting long after Wednesday's game about what they could have done better.
"I think they're locked in at all times," said Young. "If they were drifting we wouldn't be sitting in the locker room an hour after the game still talking. They're trying to figure it out, they're focused on trying to get better with that unit. They're focused on trying to help this team win basketball games and they're just focused on making sure they're making the right plays at all times. They're staying in the film sessions, they're staying after practice when we do have practice and they're getting shots up on days where we're not even supposed to be at the gym. So they're doing all the right things. They know they have bright futures in this league."
Young finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss to Utah.
But it's been a difficult transition to the bench, especially as Donovan likes to adjust matchups and rotations as the game unfolds depending on the score and the opponent. Sometimes it results in longer times out or shorter stays in.
"When you play against teams like we've played against – San Antonio, in the playoffs, Miami, I'm saying currently in the playoffs, certainly Utah has been a really good team, and after the Miami game, we made a lineup change—I think sometimes their production could be down because of the quality of teams we're playing against," said Donovan. "Hopefully they can continue to learn and grow and get better in those situations."
Though the Bulls six opponents since then have a combined .500 record with Detroit and Oklahoma City mixed in.
The production of both White and Carter has suffered. They haven't complained or been troublesome, though the offense has languished at times after a fast start the first two games. Since then the Bulls have scored 100 points or fewer three of the last four games.
White was averaging 16.1 points on 42 percent shooting and 36 percent on threes before the change. He also averaged five assists and 4.9 rebounds with slightly better than a two-to-one assist/turnover ratio. In the last six games, he is averaging 10 points on 37 percent shooting and 32 percent on threes. He is averaging 2.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds and a one-to-one assist/turnover ratio.
Carter was averaging 11.8 points and 7.9 rebounds on 52 percent shooting before the change. Since then, he is averaging 7.8 points and 7.1 rebounds on 44 percent shooting.
There long has been a debate regarding LaVine that he is a "No. 2" and how are the Bulls going to get a "No. 1."
Well, LaVine is a No. 1 the way he's played this season and in the discussion for all-NBA. The problem is becoming where is the No. 2. It can't be the veterans Young or Satoransky as effective and impressive as they have been. Young again led the Bulls with nine rebounds while Satoransky made five of seven shots and had two blocks and a steal.
LaVine led the Bulls with 27 points, seven rebounds, and four assists
But against a tough team the reserve production suffered, 43-27 for the Jazz who also made 17 of 39 threes. The Bulls were six of 26 for threes against a rugged Jazz defense. Rudy Gobert had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks, staying in the game late to try to get that first career triple double. He almost did when it appeared he blocked a Markkanen attempt into the basket. Donovan Mitchell had 30 points. But what was most impressive about the Jazz was the way they methodically carved up the Bulls, like a knife trough red meat if you will. The Jazz play patiently and unselfishly, screening hard enough to honor the memory of Jerry Sloan and performing with so much rhythm that Jazz in Salt Lake City may no longer be a misnomer. This Jazz band knows synchronization and improvisation.
"We got really stagnant," said Markkanen.
Utah had a lot to do with that.
"We didn't move the ball and get to the rim," said Markkanen. "I think we were shooting a lot from the outside. We have to keep the ball moving, especially when he's (LaVine) not in. He's such a great talent. When he's aggressive, I don't think anybody can stop him. We kind of run through him. But we have to do a better job moving the ball."
Or just getting moving.
Again, these Bulls are sounding like those late 80s Bulls who had such trouble scoring when Michael Jordan didn't play. Times were different then and Jordan averaged more than 40 minutes per game. So the Bulls survived. They weren't thriving quite yet because more help was needed. It came. The question for these Bulls is if it's here.
For now, it seems like the Bulls are relying—or hoping—that it takes a village to improve a team.
"Those young guys in that lineup, they might not see some of the things that need to be done," said Young. "They might not know, ‘Hey, I need to cut,' or, ‘I need to move and I need to just continuously move and do certain things.' The reads might not come as fast or as quick as some of the veteran guys. I was just telling Coby and Wendell with that second unit, guys have to continue to move, continue to cut, and continue to make the reads and just continue to make the defense go side to side. Usually when the defense is going side to side, we get a good shot."
The Bulls got a few early, going right at Gobert, which is the way to play him. Though exceptionally long armed, he's not strong and doesn't react quickly when you drive into his body. The Bulls did that with an 8-3 start and seeming control much of the first quarter. Carter dunked hard on a Satoransky pass, Patrick Williams, LaVine and Markkanen scored driving into Gobert. And then LaVine sandwiched a White three with two of his own, subbing out with three minutes left in the first quarter and the Bulls ahead 23-20.
Thirteen straight missed Bulls shots and a 19-0 Jazz run later…
Jazz by 14 at half, Jazz by 18 after three, Jazz bye bye.