The Bulls got off to a slow start against the Nets, losing the first quarter by 11, before storming back to almost double the Nets up in the second and took a 6 point lead into halftime. Unfortunately the Bulls poor shooting night - hitting just 35.2% and 23.1% from 3 - led to the Nets grabbing the win at the United Center.
Perhaps the most difficult part about a start to the season like this for the Bulls, the latest a 117-111 loss Saturday to the Brooklyn Nets, is that you begin to run out of synonyms for disappointing.
Frustrating to lose the opener by a point in Charlotte after leading by 10 midway through the fourth quarter.
Disheartening to get blown out in the home opener by Toronto without Kawhi.
Regrettable to watch the Knicks and Bobby Portis score the last 15 points and lose in New York.
Dispiriting to lose to a Cavaliers team seemingly trying to lose.
Depressing to watch the Lakers open the fourth quarter with 16 straight points and pull away for a victory.
And then Saturday it simply was miserable to lose to a Nets team not only on a three-game losing streak and finishing an exhausting five-game road trip, but a team without its best players, Kyrie Irving and Caris LaVert, and its best player for next season, Kevin Durant. And doing so after a turnaround to a second quarter Bulls double digit lead and still tied with about eight minutes left. But it was the Nets who were live on Saturday night.
"We should take offense to it," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 36 points. "We've had a really easy schedule to start off. You've got to win the games you're supposed to win. We pissed away a lot of games I think we should have won. They just wanted it more than us; they made more plays to close out the third quarter and start the fourth."
And then all the Bulls could do thanks to LaVine with 10 points in the last 73 seconds was put a scare into the Nets. They made their free throws to close the game, 12 of 13 in the fourth quarter from former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie, who had 20 of his team high 24 points in the fourth quarter. Joe Harris added 22. Wendell Carter Jr. was terrific with 18 points and 14 rebounds against the Nets' towering centers of Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan. Carter had a career high nine offensive rebounds as the Bulls out rebounded the Nets 56-40. The Bulls also made 38 of 41 free throws to 27 of 31 for the Nets, the latter who got half their attempts on late intentional fouls. Lauri Markkanen had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Chandler Hutchison added 11 points starting with Otto Porter Jr. still out.
But it was yet another woeful offensive performance by the Bulls, 35.2 percent shooting and 23.1 percent on threes as the Bulls languish in the bottom five of the NBA in offensive efficiency and shooting and in the bottom 10 in three-point shooting and scoring. Not that FEMA is coming quite yet, but there are disaster signs for a team that talks about running but doesn't much and continues to stand around the three-point line. Many times Bulls players appeared to be checking where they were standing before shooting to make sure they were behind the three point line or moving there.
The Nets are one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the NBA. But when they missed early they sliced up the Bulls with slashing pick and rolls and drives to take a 30-19 first quarter lead. The Nets had a 56-36 edge in paint points even as they attempted more threes than the Bulls.
Which as the Bulls slid to 4-9 and now 2-4 at home raises the question of when is it still early.
"I know we don't want to keep saying, 'It's only the 15th, 16th game.' Eventually it will be the 70th, 71st," noted Carter. "It's very early in the season. We're still building this whole team together. I wouldn't stress about it too much at the moment, but we know that we don't have all day."
Bulls coach Jim Boylen agreed it still was time to stay the course, that there aren't icebergs on the horizon quite yet in a season that had some titanic expectations.
"I think we've got to stay the course," said Boylen. "Listen, nobody likes losing games, nobody likes losing home games. There's no shame in losing an NBA game. It happens every day. What I'm disappointed in is our start, home game, a Saturday night in Chicago. I didn't like the way we started. I can't play for them. They've got to come out and they've got to do it.''
Shifting blame or issuing a timely challenge?
It generally depends on where you sit.
Change the starting lineup to get in more, as the coaches like to say, pop? Though not Gregg. Go with Coby and some hair on fire? Which would be quite the conflagration. Actually, the Bulls have done well to start games lately, leading before Saturday in the first quarters against the Bucks, whom they play again Monday, Knicks, Rockets, Hawks and Lakers back to the beginning of the month. Maybe tweak the offense, which relies on the latest mathematical certainties from certain parts of the court?
"We've put so much work into it," said LaVine. "You don't feel like you just want to abandon something you've been working on, been working on here since September. You don't want to call it quits so early. I feel like it's their department (strategy). I've just got to continue to be prepared and help lead and get better; we'll be OK. I feel we just have to get a sense of urgency."
But it also appeared often that many of the players were not comfortable in the long distance shooting roles. There really aren't many classic three-point spot-up Kyle Korver types on the roster. And Markkanen continues a shooting slump, though he made a tough three in that late comeback attempt and was a reasonable two of six on threes. Of more concern was the way so many players in the sliding scale rotations passed up long shots to seek out LaVine or Coby White, the latter with seven points on three of 13 shooting. The Bulls found 39 three-point shots, but the netting part just nine times.
It's become something of the NBA's Democratic/Republican debate — at least when everyone forgets about load management — to be or not to be a three-point shooting team. Or attempt those mid range jumpers and opportunity shots and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous bloggers?
"I just see that we get stagnant a lot out there," said LaVine. "We'll run one action and then everybody is staring at the person with the ball. When that happens, obviously everyone starts to try and do it themselves. But you've got to try and shy away from that. It's tough. I blame myself. I go out there and try to do it as well.
"Sometimes you get the ball and to me it feels like there are 12 eyes staring at me," said LaVine, and we assume he meant that sixth set was the coach. "I'm not scared to take any shot. I'm not scared to miss a shot. I've taken all these shots before. If I'm the person to blame, I can take it. I know I'm in the gym working on my craft each and every night. I always look at myself first before anyone else. We just gotta do better as a unit. I'm definitely going to at least get a shot on the rim. I'm not one to just dribble the clock out or anything like that or throw it to somebody with seven seconds left (on the shot clock). If I get it at the top of the key with eight, nine seconds left on the clock, I'm going to try to make a play."
Uh oh, he disclosed his plan.
Bulls vs Nets Game Recap
Which is positive for confidence, which the best players need. The best teams have players like that, guys like Giannis, Harden, LeBron. The extra pass is good, too, as long as it ends up with someone who knows what to do with the ball.
"We have a five-out offense," LaVine noted. "So it gets tough when we get to those stagnant points because that's how it's supposed to be."
The first quarter was a stunner with the Nets just having played in Portland, Phoenix, Utah and Denver over the last nine days looking far more enthusiastic and without Irving. Which some suggest, of course, is the reason. The Nets now are 5-7.
"What I talked about (to the players) is the first quarter start," said Boylen. "I didn't like it. I had to use two timeouts in the first quarter to get us going; it's unacceptable. You can't lose the first quarter at home by 11. To their credit, we battled back, took the lead at halftime (56-50 after leading by 11)."
That second quarter with White making his three shots, Kris Dunn getting in the lane for steals and Carter getting as many rebounds as the entire Nets team seemed like it was going to save the Bulls.
"We won the second, but we lost three quarters at home and you can't lose three quarters at home and try to win a game," noted Boylen. "We are looking for more consistency. I thought we played very well in Milwaukee; I didn't think we played as well tonight. Some of the positives were we won the boards and free throw attempts. Obviously, we lost the shooting percentage game."
The Bulls kept their lead through the third quarter, though with the worrisome signs that eventually proved fatal. Carter for all his effort still declines to shoot from outside and the Nets fell deep into the paint against him. Tomas Satoransky played six minutes with one shot in the third; Hutchison also. LaVine attempted five shots and the rest of the starters combined for six. But if the other guys won't shoot, someone has to. It forces LaVine often into what observers say are poor shot choices. But if no one else wants the ball, what to do?
Ryan Arcidiacono was plucky — running out of synonyms for him, too — in the fourth by drawing a pair of charges to nullify Nets baskets and making a three, albeit on his only shot attempt. It still was 94-92 Nets with 4:36 left, after which the Nets drove the ball at the Bulls and shot 19 free throws the rest of the way, White fouling on a three-point attempt after LaVine and Markkanen misses. Still, both made improbable threes late after the Bulls fell behind 107-98 with 1:23 left and forced the Nets to make every free throw. It was something like the football two-minute drill when all of a sudden a somnambulant team can't miss playing with rare urgency and is wide awake.
"At points, even throughout the game, we look fluid and we look like we know what we're doing, and we can run a team and blow a team out," said LaVine. "I just feel like we're too inconsistent."
And thus lugubrious?