Playing the Best Teams, Missing Caruso and Ball, Tip Your Hat to Ja Morant, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Playing the Best Teams, Missing Caruso and Ball, Tip Your Hat to Ja Morant, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

When it comes to facing the cream of the crop, the Chicago Bulls still have a lot to prove.

•   Sorry to start your Sunday Funday on such a bleh note, but a 2-12 record against the league’s other top-8 teams is a slight cause for concern. The cliche is right: You have to beat the best to be the best, and the Bulls have had real trouble doing just that since the season tipped off. Several of these teams are the ones you will have to take down in April to make this more than just a memorable regular season. And while I still have plenty of faith in the Bulls’ ability to play a competitive game, whether or not they can get over the winning hump is a real question with 21 games left to go this regular season.

•   The good news is that (1) this upcoming stretch could be the learning experience they need, and (2) they have some high-end talent still scheduled to make a return. It’s frustrating knowing the Bulls have to finish the post-All-Star break with the second-toughest schedule in the league, but this means only more opportunities to right the wrongs of last night’s close loss. As for the injuries, as much as some hate to play this card, it’s a fact these bumps and bruises have made life harder on this Bulls team.

•   Arturas Karnisovas built this roster with the idea that Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso would anchor the defense  And, let’s not forget, that’s exactly what these two did before they both went down with their respective long-term injuries. Before January 1st (Caruso has played just two games in 2022 and Ball has played six games), the Bulls’ defensive rating consistently ranked in the top-10. In fact, when both were playing consistently over the team’s first 25 games of the season, the team held a top-5 defensive rating. Out of these 14 games we have seen against teams with at least a .600 winning percentage, Ball and Caruso have appeared together in just six, per StatMuse (2 vs. MIA, 2 vs. PHI, 1 vs. UTA, 1 vs. GSW).

•   Can we guarantee the Bulls’ record would be significantly better against top squads if both Caruso and Ball played more consistently? No, but we can guarantee the Bulls would be a more complete team, which is why it’s hard for me to fuss too much about this 2-12 record. The Bulls can’t beat the best when they’re not at their best. I can accept that for the time being, but it just goes to show how important full health will be come playoff time. Without Caruso and/or Ball, it’s going to be very difficult for this team to be who we think they can be.

•   If you want to say having that strong of reliance on Caruso and Ball is, within itself, a roster flaw … be my guest. I’m not saying it’s ideal, I’m just pointing out the reality of the situation. Anyway, thank goodness the Grizzlies are not in the East, right!? The Bulls did a great job fighting their way back into last night’s game, but what a matchup nightmare the Grizzlies have turned out to be. As the best rebounding group in the league with plenty of athletic size in the frontcourt – and a point guard that puts significant pressure at the rim – it (unfortunately) was not a big surprise to see the Bulls fall short.

•   Chicago was able to claw their way back into the game with a much more physical effort in the 4th quarter. We also saw Zach LaVine push the pace in transition and play to this team’s strengths. The Bulls strung together a 14-0 run and forced a nearly 5-minute long scoring drought for the Grizzlies in the kind of well-executed run that made all of us ask, “where was this earlier?” I’m not sure if it’s the lack of a high-energy veteran like Caruso or the collective inexperience of this “Big 3,” but it’s been way too hard for the Bulls to play a full 48 minutes at times this season. A crucial part of the playoffs is being able to control the pace of play, and the Bulls have yet to learn how to do just that.

•   The Bulls could have been better, but you also have to tip your cap to the opponent sometimes. Ja Morant looked like the rising superstar he is with a career-high 46 points at the United Center last night. He broke the Grizzlies franchise record for regular-season points in a game, shooting 15-28 from the field and 13-15 from the free-throw line. If it wasn’t a game against the Bulls, I would have jumped out of my seat watching some of his possessions.

•   DeMar DeRozan’s record-breaking streak of 35+ points on at least 50 percent shooting from the field came to end last night. However, his streak of consecutive 30-point games did stretch to 10 thanks to a 9-10 performance at the free-throw line to counterbalance an uncharacteristic 10-29 shooting night from the field.

•   Again, if this wasn’t against the Bulls, I would have chuckled.

•   Devon Dotson keeps making highlights for the Windy City Bulls.


Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.