Bulls suffer tough defeat to Cavaliers 103-94

The Bulls had another disappointing loss as they fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-94 at home on Wednesday night. Zach LaVine led the way for Chicago with 22 points on 8-of-20 shooting and four assists. Cleveland played without one of their starters, Collin Sexton. The Bulls (19-24) have two nights off before getting a rematch with the San Antonio Spurs (22-19) on the road.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan had a few issues with the way his team played Wednesday in a 103-94 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I didn't think we moved the ball very well," Donovan said. "I didn't think we cut very well. We didn't play with any flow, we didn't play with any pace, we didn't cut, we didn't move, we didn't help each other. Obviously, the turnovers again. I don't think anything in terms of an identity we want to play to did we execute at all on either end of the floor."

Yeah, but other than that?

The pregame layup lines did look pretty sharp.

Coach Donovan spoke to the media following Chicago's loss to Cleveland.

This loss was a particularly grotesque one for the Bulls against a Cavaliers team that not only is rocking near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but was rolling without its leading scorer and featuring primarily rookies and undrafted players.

But the Cavaliers essentially outplayed the oddly lethargic and seemingly detached Bulls players virtually throughout the game, eventually taking a 13-point fourth quarter lead and never truly being challenged. What, the Cavs? Like Joakim Noah once said, you never hear anyone saying they want to go on vacation to Cleveland. Or that they were outplayed by the Cavs. At least these Cavs. Now 17-27. Oh, right not that far behind the 19-24 Bulls.

"We can't have losses like this," agreed Wendell Carter Jr. "Not to say Cleveland isn't a good team because they are. But we've showed we can play with some of the best in this league. I feel like from the get-go as a team we underestimated them. We just thought we could show up and play just because of their record. Whatever everybody else was thinking, I don't know. But that's kind of the vibe I was getting. Even in the warmups, I'm like, ‘Man, c'mon. This is another game for us, another opportunity for us to get better.' (Heck), we're not one of the best teams in the league, either. You can't underestimate anybody. I feel like that's kind of how we went into it."

Wendell Carter Jr. finished with seven points and nine boards on Wednesday night.

And then the Bulls came out of it about to face their most difficult period of this so difficult season starting in San Antonio Saturday, the first of nine road games in the next 10 with the Warriors, Suns, Jazz and Nets to follow.

And, almost forgot, Zach LaVine who led the Bulls with 22 points, though with just four pints on two of 12 second half shooting limped off the floor toward the end. Donovan said he didn't know the problem yet.

"There was no question he was limping," Donovan acknowledged. "I asked him a couple of times if he was OK; he said could play. I was going to take him out with maybe three or four minutes. I noticed it around maybe the six-minute mark or so and he said, ‘I want to play, I'm fine.' So I left him in there. I haven't had a chance to talk to medical to see what actually happened yet."

This was a difficult one to figure what happened just about everywhere.

The Bulls haven't always been good this season, but they've probably never looked like they did against the Cavs. More like they were being forced to play. No love of the game this time. It was surprising because this has been an upbeat and motivated, albeit flawed, team. Trade deadline jitters?

The effective final roster date is Thursday 2 p.m. And for the first time in several seasons, both because the Bulls have been on the edge of the playoff race and because some of their players have added appeal, Bulls players have been mentioned in trade rumors. The most has been around Lauri Markkanen, who was second to LaVine with 17 points. Tomas Satoransky and Coby White each had 11 as White and Carter continued to lack great impact coming off the bench. Rookie Patrick Williams had five points in 32 minutes.

Though he's definitely not being traded.

"I felt I'm in a good place that I can focus on the task at hand," insisted Markkanen. "I can play games and it's (trade deadline) not gonna bother me. I can't control that. I knew that was one possibility when I didn't sign my extension before the season. So I knew that was one thing that can happen. So it doesn't affect me at all. I was in a good space just to play the game."

Lauri Markkanen scored 17 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the loss to Cleveland.

The seven-foot Markkanen has been somewhat more assertive recently, if not tremendously efficient with his three-point shooting. Meanwhile with Garrett Temple still out with an ankle sprain—though he should return Saturday—the Bulls continued to get little from Denzel Valentine and Otto Porter Jr. It's a difficult formula to produce success when LaVine isn't at his best.

Though Markkanen's name has been mentioned most often in trade speculation, since his return from injury nine games ago he's been the closest the Bulls have to a second option to LaVine, averaging 15.4 points. White was supposed to assume that role, but he's had difficulties since coming off the bench seven games ago, averaging about 10 points and shooting barely 30 percent.

"I didn't think we did the things that were even necessary to put ourselves in a position to win on both ends of the floor," Donovan agreed with an unusually harsh assessment.

It probably was because even in losses, the effort, energy and attention to detail was usual there. Not so much this time.

"I think we're better than the way we played," said Donovan. "I don't want to take anything away from Cleveland because they were the aggressor. They outplayed us. They deserved to win the game.

"It's a possibility," Donovan added when asked about all the trade talk perhaps being distracting. "It's been an emotional roller coaster for our team when you look at the number of games and what's happened in a lot of these games. Being totally manhandled by Philadelphia coming out of the break, not playing particularly well against Miami, being up 25 and losing to San Antonio, being up against Denver and losing and going on the road and beating Detroit by double digits, losing by 25 to Utah. You've got to be able to respond from game to game and for whatever reason on both ends of the floor, I don't think we played to the caliber or the level that we're capable of."

It was an aberration for these Bulls, though debilitating, in part, because of the opponent. The Bulls have been dominant against teams with losing records, winning 16 of 19. Looking ahead? To the trip? To the trades? Afraid of another Baker Mayfield commercial?

It appeared like it from the start with LaVine's scoring keeping the Bulls afloat, 10 first quarter points in a 25-25 game. The Cavaliers were without leading scorer (by a lot) Collin Sexton with a groin injury. Already they were sitting Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee for possible trades or buyouts. Kevin Love remained out hurt along with Taurean Prince. Matthew Dellavedova also being out hurt the Bulls chances to recover. D-Wade did hit the Bulls for 10 points, which may have distracted them because it was Dean Wade. I know, me neither.

Larry Nance Jr. looked like Larry Nance Sr. with 14 points and 14 rebounds, Jarrett Allen had 19 points and nine rebounds towering over Thad Young and point guard Darius Garland was terrific with 22 points and nine assists. Brodric Thomas, Dylan Windler and Lamar Stevens also did things whoever they were.

Apparently having watched the replay of the Jazz loss and noting that 19-0 run when LaVine was out late in the first quarter into the second, Donovan kept LaVine in the game through those segments. So the teams took turns with the lead, the Bulls nosing ahead 55-53 at halftime as LaVine had 18 points and made four of six threes.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 22 points on 8-of-20 shooting and dished out 4 assists against the Cavs.

Though there seemed an unusual sluggishness to the Bulls play, that happens in the NBA. Compressed schedule, Covid testing, trade deadline questions, no rappers in the front row. The Bulls were going to put this one away any minute. You just knew it; you just did.

Except they didn't, the Cavs taking a 78-72 lead after three quarters as LaVine missed all five of his third quarter attempts. Very un-Zach like. OK, fourth quarter here they come?

White made a three, and Ryan Arcidiacono followed with another and the Cavs then led 82-80. Surely now?

But White airballed his next three try, Arcidiacono had a shot blocked, Satoransky missed, LaVine missed, starting to limp along, and so were the Bulls, trailing 91-80 with seven minutes left. Could they lose to these Cavs? Well, they had won 16 games. Unclear how; oh, right Sexton.

Young came back with a neat followup of a LaVine miss, though Young had a quiet eight points with four turnovers. Satoransky got some free throws, Markkanen scored inside and Zach finally made one. Except while that was going on D-Wade made a three, B-Thomas made a three, and then D-Garland added yet another three. It was the Cavs hitting the paint and moving the ball around with the Bulls apparently quietly applauding. The Bulls did get within seven points twice.

"The challenge that I talk to these guys about from day one is it's very easy to be geared up and jacked up and charged up and motivated in training camp and the first 10 games of the year," said Donovan. "I knew it was going to be a different kind of year with Covid and what we were dealing with. I was anxious to see the competitiveness of our group when we got into February, March, April, when you get into these dog days and a lot of games and a lot of those kinds of things. I don't know the answer why. It was disappointing. I think we're better than that."