At this point in the regular season, when teams should be playing their best basketball, the Chicago Bulls have done anything but.
After snatching a four-point victory to start their post-All-Star-break sprint to the playoffs, the Bulls have dropped three-straight games and risk a free-fall down the Eastern Conference standings given their upcoming schedule. The team currently sits 3rd with a slim one-game lead over the Milwaukee Bucks. And that one-game lead could evaporate as soon as tonight with the Bucks in town. Overall, only 2.5 games separate the Bulls from the No. 6 seed, and while resting there would still mean they dodge the Play-In Tournament, it would take away home-court advantage and potentially set up a tougher playoff slate.
I don’t want to get ahead of myself and panic too much about seeding (the playoffs are the playoffs, after all), but seeding also helps us understand which direction the team is trending. And, as Billy Donovan indicated after the team’s 130-124 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Bulls are headed down a very bumpy road.
“The challenge for this team is, what I’ve mentioned, the discipline and the consistency on that end of the floor,” Donovan said. “I just don’t think it’s a real good thing to take Alex and Lonzo and sit there and say that’s why our defense is struggling …
We have to be more disciplined because I think when you get to the schedule that we have, with the remaining games we have, with guys being out, we don’t have any margin for error. We just don’t. It’s just a reality of it. There is no margin for error. We need to play at a really good level on both ends of the floor to give ourselves a chance.”
The Bulls suffered some untimely injuries, and they were dealt a bad hand with the second-toughest post-All-Star-break schedule. Both facts are worth mentioning as we tell the story of this team, but both facts are also why this group has to play more mindful basketball.
In other words, the Bulls can’t cough up 14 turnovers against the Hawks’ 26th-ranked defense. The Bulls can’t let Trae Young shoot more free throws than their entire team. The Bulls can’t foul the Miami Heat 24 times. The Bulls can’t get outrebounded on the offensive glass 19-6 by the Memphis Grizzlies. The Bulls can’t keep shooting themselves in the foot.
Billy Donovan said Bulls need to play more disciplined after last night’s loss. Hard not to think of these TOVs when he says that.
Bulls have been lazy on some entry passes & PnR feeds. These are critical live-ball TOVs that lead to easy fast-break points.
Got to be smarter. pic.twitter.com/ZMU8kpapOk
— Elias Schuster (@Schuster_Elias) March 4, 2022
The strange thing is this team has averaged the 6th-fewest turnovers and the 7th-fewest fouls per game this season. However, as Donovan alluded to on Thursday, that doesn’t matter if you can’t stick to those numbers against the league’s top teams. It also surely doesn’t matter if your defense can’t stop anyone from finding the bottom of the net.
To be sure, I’m not here to offer some kind of grand resolution. I got nothing right now. Instead, I think Donovan put it best himself: “There is no margin for error.” I know that might be a crappy reality, but it’s the one the Bulls have to make the most of right now.