Is it time for a change after the Bulls eighth consecutive loss, this time 107-100 Tuesday to the Los Angeles Lakers? Perhaps a change of pace; certainly a change of heart. Because the Bulls clearly have to change their ways, which would be a welcome change.
“I‘ve thought about it,” said Bulls coach Jim Boylen when asked about the starting five sagging late in the game once again. “I think it’s a good point. We put our starters back in Utah and the lead got built up and tonight I thought we did (again).”
So Jabari Parker to the starting lineup?
Never say never in this Bulls season. Especially since the previously banished Parker not only returned to the playing rotation in what Boylen said is not temporary, but Parker led six Bulls in double figures with 18 points on seven of 10 shooting. The recent outcast then inspired a group of Bulls irregulars to the team’s best run of the game in the last three minutes when the Bulls cut a 17-point deficit to five and even denied the devastated home crowd free tacos with 19 points in the last 2:31.
“It’s a blessing to be out there on the court again,” said Parker, whose media sessions even have turned somewhat expansive. “I just have to remember this is the game that I love and all the distractions go out the roof when I step on the floor. Getting these opportunities was obviously something I like and I was just trying to make the right play. It’s the same way I’ve been playing when I was playing before; no change. Just who I am.”
Just who these Bulls are remains a much larger question.
Lauri Markkanen added 17 points, but it again was a struggle with tough shooting chances and six of 14 shooting. He was part of that starting group that was subbed out late before the team’s best play of the game.
“I haven’t thought about it like that,” Markkanen said when asked whether he expects lineup changes. “We’re just going out there and playing as hard as we can. If that’s what the coach wants to have, then we go from there. We’re trying as hard as we can, and if it’s not working it’s up to him. Today it was was one period. We were up (four, early in the third quarter) and a minute later they were up 10. A couple of mistakes in transition. We didn’t talk and didn’t rebound the ball; they got second shots. I don’t know what it is, but we have to fix it.”
In that early third quarter stretch, actually one of two long droughts with the second early in the fourth quarter, Boylen took out Kris Dunn, apparently for passing on open shots.
Dunn had a brutal game with a team high minus-25 plus minus with six points. Ryan Arcidiacono had 12 points and a team best plus-17 with Chandler Hutchison also scoring 12 points. Shaquille Harrison and Zach LaVine each had 10 points and LaVine had a team high eight assists.
“I thought he needed a break,” Boylen said about Dunn. “The shot clock violations (two in four possessions with two other turnovers, one by Dunn) were frustrating because you have to shoot the ball. You have to get the ball on the rim. You never know what will happen. Sometimes we are hesitant to take a shot in the rhythm of the offense. With four seconds to go you can’t throw it to your 19-year-old rookie center and expect him to do something.”
There wasn’t enough done by the Bulls, except for the usual good moments. Just not enough of them, also as usual.
“Again, I thought we played maybe about 28 to 35 minutes of good basketball and 12 to 15 minutes of not good basketball,” said Boylen. “And we don’t have enough fire power to be able to just turn it on and take over the game. So we just have to plod through it and get the lead and hang onto to the lead and we didn’t do that.”
Hutchison was an early bright spot back home in Southern California with his second consecutive game scoring in double figures. Hutchison had just two such games previously all season.
“I knew that playing and being out there and learning to play with these guys out there, I felt it was only a matter of time before I got more comfortable,” said the rangy 6-7 forward. “Today I just wanted to be aggressive. They are starting to trust me more and being aggressive offensively. So I just wanted to do that.”
With Hutchison scoring in three consecutive possessions midway through the first quarter, the third on a slashing dunk on a Wendell Carter Jr. pass, the Bulls trailed 19-18 after the first quarter.
The Lakers were again playing without the injured LeBron James and slumping, coming off a home loss to the Cavaliers and losers of seven of their last 10, including also to the Knicks at home. The jackals were eying the job of coach Luke Walton with another loss. But the Lakers went to 24-21 while the Bulls fell to 10-34 and second poorest record in the league.
“Just comes down to us being (upset enough) about it and finding a way,” said Hutchison. “You can blame this and that, but it’s going to be up to us to figure it out.”
One guy who is having continued trouble figuring it out is Markkanen. The seven footer who was a prodigy last season had a burst of life in the third quarter with a pair of driving scores and a tough jumper to get the Bulls within 66-62 after a run of Lonzo Ball scores enabled the Lakers to break from a 44-43 halftime lead. Ball scored 13 of his team high 19 points in the third quarter with three of four threes. Which is a hint you have problems when Lonzo Ball is outshooting Markkanen.
Markkanen has scored more than 18 points just once in the last 10 games, seemingly struggling with a more deliberate offense and more difficult shots. He never complains and always says he has to work harder. But his play, so exciting a year ago, often appears to lack the joie de vivre common previously,
“Just trying to go to the next game and fix this and go day by day,” Markkanen said evenly. “That’s the only way we can fix this, practice and work hard. It’s not fun to lose. It’s a part of it. We are just trying to get out of it as quickly as possible. The good part of the NBA is you play almost every night. Have a bad game, just restart and go back at it again. That’s what we have to do.
“It’s a fact I was playing better in December,” Markkanen admitted even as he was just returning from 10 weeks out with an elbow injury. “There are different coverages they are throwing at me. Then, of course, sometimes someone else is feeling it and I am not. I’m trying to get back to that. I just try to read the defense when I have the shot. Standing still is hard to get anything from it. I’m just trying to be a compete player and try to do a little bit of everything.”
Like, you know, Jabari Parker.
Parker was effectively removed from the playing rotation after playing four minutes in the game in Mexico City. He didn’t play the next nine games even in blowouts, played 14 minutes against the Pacers Jan. 4, and then not again for three games until scoring 11 points in 19 minutes in the loss to Utah Saturday.
Then before Tuesday’s game, Boylen said Parker was back in the playing rotation, and against the Lakers Parker was the best player on the floor for the Bulls with 18 points in 17 minutes with two of four threes and a pair of steals.
It appears the 6-8 Parker is back to playing regularly again as he did earlier in the season as the major free agent signing of the summer; a trade still remains possible. Parker says he’s just glad to be back on the floor, though he said he never really was told why he wasn’t playing. But he said he’s again ready to move forward. That was apparent when he came into the game to open the second quarter and immediately made a driving slam dunk and a three pointer.
Tuesday’s game got away from the Bulls after Parker was dominating the start of the fourth quarter. He was fouled and made a pair of free throws, hit Wayne Selden with a snappy pass on the run for a score and then picked up a loose ball between three Lakers for a slam dunk to bring the Bulls within 80-76 with 9:32 left. The Bulls then went five minutes without a point as the Lakers scored 14 straight for a 94-76 lead. That bench group with Parker scoring 11 fourth quarter points, Arcidiacono, Hutchison, Cristiano Felicio and Shaquille Harrison hustled their way back to at least forcing the Lakers to reinsert three starters in the last two minutes. The Lakers offer fans free tacos for winning and holding the opponent under 100 points. So the Bulls scored on nine straight possessions in the last 2:46 to get to 100, denying the fans who pay an average of $445 per seat those two tacos that go for 99 cents.
Hey, it’s California. And it was raining. They were not happy.
“Just communicate with me; that’s what the struggle has been so far,” said Parker. “I don’t know what’s going on. I (feel I) bring a lot of aspects to the game. I don’t bring just one dimension. I can play any position, so position is not the excuse.
“But just to get my name called out there is a privilege,” Parker acknowldged. I’ll just say this, when you experience certain things and you see certain things happen to you, I think it’s rare for you to have those same type of feelings (you had before). It’s kind of hard, especially when people are indirect with you. But right now it’s just about me and what I can do to help this team. I’m focusing on my growth, how I can get better. Anybody in any situation if they have been dealt some bitterness, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be the same, so that’s all I am going to say about that.
“I know what I can do; I am the same guy,” said Parker. “Every time when I go out there it’s going to be the same thing, be solid, play smart and see how it goes. (For us now), it’s just stay with it, keep on trusting each other, keep on boosting each other’s confidence. That’s what’s going to help us. Play for one another, and just the things we have already. We just have to sharpen them and we’re going to do that.
“I know who I am and confidence has never been a problem for me,” said Parker, who only last February returned from his second ACL knee surgery. “Just want to continue to do what I know I am capable of. Just have to remind myself that I am still fortunate. I am not hurt and I am still able to get on the court. That kind of perspective goes a long way for where I’ve been in my life. That’s behind me; that’s in the past. But it’s something I also have to keep in the back of my mind, to count my blessings. It beats being on the couch for three months.”
Time for the Bulls to start getting in the game as well and making it a change for the better.