A Very Bad Loss, the Impact of Ball and Caruso, Could Pistons Keep Grant? And Other Bulls Bullets

Even Garfield woke up happier than I did on this snowy Monday.

Since the team’s nine-game win streak ended on January 9th, the Chicago Bulls have gone on to lose seven of their last nine games. Even more discouraging, their Net Rating has been the 3rd-worst in the NBA over that stretch. The Bulls have now stumbled into the East’s 3rd spot with the Milwaukee Bucks *hissssss* right on their heels. Only 4.0 games separate the 1-7 seeds in the conference, leaving the Bulls in quite the vulnerable position if they can’t course-correct sooner than later.

The good news is that Zach LaVine and Javonte Green will join the team in Oklahoma City tonight with a chance to make their much-needed return. Chicago is also in the middle of a stretch where five of their next seven games will come against below-.500 teams. The other two matchups will be against a Toronto Raptors squad that currently sits 22-22.

While the long-term injuries to Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Patrick Williams are soul-crushing, the Bulls should still have the All-Star-caliber talent to stay afloat over the next handful of weeks … which is exactly why last night’s loss was somewhat infuriating.

•   Some people pelted me with shouts of “What about the Houston game!” when I claimed the 114-95 loss to the Magic as the worst of the season, but I stand by that statement. While the Bulls were surely healthier when they posted a dud against the Rockets back in November, that was at least a close game where the Rockets played fairly well. I mean, after all, that group did go on to win seven straight. What made last night worse is the fact that it wasn’t even particularly close. The Bulls failed to shrink the Magic lead past 11 points in the 4th quarter, and they looked completely lost on the defensive end, allowing the Magic to penetrate the paint for a ridiculous 60-34 advantage.

•   What made things that much more embarrassing was the fact that the Bulls committed 21 turnovers against the 24th-ranked defense in the NBA. This made for the team’s second-most turnovers on the season, with the most (22) coming against Miami’s 8th-ranked defense back on November 27th. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso may not necessarily be the most secure playmakers, but they are two of the team’s higher-IQ players and better ballhandlers. Even if it isn’t adding an assist directly to the box score, these are two players who keep the ball moving efficiently and rack up hockey assists. Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu have been great in recent weeks, but last night’s combined six turnovers helped demonstrate just how much is on their youthful plate.

•   Likewise, White and Dosunmu simply cannot offer what Ball and Caruso do on the defensive end. We have talked about this plenty over the last month, but losing both of those players has been the main reason for this painful defensive slippage. When Arturas Karniosvas and Marc Eversley built this unit, they knew that Ball and Caruso would make this a balanced team. Both are pivotal in making a roster built around three offensive-minded All-Stars work. Without their perimeter ball pressure and POA skills, teams are attacking Vucevic off the dribble in a relentless fashion. Vucevic can hold his own when someone is slowing down the action in front of him, but he can’t individually protect the rim thanks to weak lateral quickness and a poor vertical. Funny enough, that’s also why someone like Patrick Williams was so freakin’ important. A freak athlete with a strong frame, Williams showed great signs as a help defender in college. The Bulls were hoping he would be the aggressive defensive presence they needed around Vucevic.

•   How bad are the Bulls struggling in the injury department right now? Troy Brown Jr., Matt Thomas, and Tyler Cook all had to clock more than 20 minutes of action last night. Ayo Dosunmu has averaged 39.2 minutes over the last five games. As much as I love watching the rookie, that alludes to way more responsibility than he should have to carry.

•   Again, at least Zach LaVine is set to return! While we’ll have to see whether or not he can significantly elevate the defense, we do know he will significantly elevate the offense. One of the league’s elite shot-makers, his three-level scoring ability opens up the floor immensely. Life should become that much easier again for DeMar DeRozan, and one can only hope it helps take some eyes off Vucevic too.

•   The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III wrote that fans shouldn’t be surprised if the Pistons do not move Jerami Grant before the deadline. While the team is fielding calls and both sides seem prepared for a potential trade, Detroit could hold out if an offer they like doesn’t come across the table. If one thing is for sure, we know that an offer they would like would be one centered around Patrick Williams, which Edwards III reiterates.

If the likes of Patrick Williams or John Collins could be had for Grant before the deadline, then I could see Weaver going forward with a deal sooner rather than later. However, I don’t get the sense the Pistons are just going to trade Grant right now because it’s convenient.

•   What is this sorcery!?

•   Someone to keep an eye on!

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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