Raising expectations is a lot like getting drunk. It’s pretty easy to arrive at that destination, but it can be brutal to sober up.
We’ve all gotten drunk on the Bulls’ midseason success, even as the level of intoxication has varied. Some may just need a glass of water. Others might crave Taco Bell. A few need a very quick Uber home. And the hardest partiers need all of the above. There’s no problem with having a little fun, but too much can turn even the best of us into a groggy puddle of misery that sends “I miss you” texts to an Ex if we’re not careful. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of us have already ended up.
If someone told me – back on October 20, 2021 – the Chicago Bulls would clinch a winning record and sit 5th in the Eastern Conference with just 18 days left to go in the regular season, I’d be perfectly content. After four-straight seasons without a playoff berth and never more than 31 wins, that would feel like a significant step in the right direction.
Is that to say I shouldn’t be distraught about the Bulls tumbling from a top-3 seed after a 4-9 post-All-Star break stint? Absolutely not! We should all hold this team to a high standard. But we need to remember where our expectations started. The playoffs were the goal. Getting back on a winning track was the goal. If that ended with a playoff heartbreak or first-round exit, so be it. Sure, it would sting, but there is a 75-year-long precedent set that tells us most teams have to accumulate playoff experience before they rise from the ashes. And that’s where my head is at right now.
• The Bulls aren’t what we thought they once were, and we have to look no further than their throw-up-a-little-in-your-month inducing 0-16 record against the top-3 teams in each conference. And that fact sucks. No way around it. But that doesn’t mean the Bulls still can’t become what we thought they once were. I see this is as a process, and I see this slap-back to reality as a part of that process. Not only is it a message to the existing roster about what it takes to be an elite team, but it’s a message to the front office about which holes must be filled to take the next step. As much as we may not want to hear it, what DeRozan said last night is true. The Bulls need to take these battle wounds on the chin to get better. He would know.
“It comes with heartache and what we’re going through right now,” DeRozan said. “We got to adopt that mindset, of understanding the last couple of weeks have been tough for us. How do we change that around and use that as a benefit for us? It’s on us to figure that out. At some point we got to get tired of getting our butt-kicked like this and that switch has to flip of understanding, ‘all right, enough is enough, now it’s time to show that desperation.’”
• Again, hardship (a lot of times in the form of playoff heartbreak) is normally the first step toward getting to where you want to be. DeRozan experienced this when he first cracked the postseason in 2013-14. The Raptors finished 48-34 before losing to a veteran Brooklyn Nets team in seven games. He also experienced this in 2014-15 with a brutal sweep against the Washington Wizards. While he may not have gone on to win a ring, he did spend three more seasons getting past the first round, even making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Do we want better for the Bulls? Of course, but I think it still serves as an example of how teams normally have to get over that first hump (making the playoffs) before getting over the second. Then, if they consistently get over one hump and not the other, a team is forced to do what the Raptors did by making a drastic change. You cross that bridge when you get there.
• For the time being, I do believe the Bulls will get over the first hump this season (aka make the playoffs). When we consider where this team was over the past half-decade, I have no choice but to consider that a positive. I also believe the team is well-positioned for a first-round exit, especially if they play the way they did against the Milwaukee Bucks last night. While I think we have to factor in this was the backend of a back-to-back after an emotional win at home, there is still no question the performance we got was unacceptable.
• You’re simply not going to beat good teams when you allow them to shoot 61.0 percent from the field and dominate the points in the paint battle 58-34. You’re also not going to win games when you can’t play to your strengths, which is getting out in transition and playing downhill for the Bulls. One night after scoring 29 points off turnovers and dominating the fastbreak, the Bulls scored just 14 points off turnovers and earned a total of 4 fastbreak points. Even more infuriating, they shot only one free-throw over the first two quarters compared to the Bucks 18.
• We can complain about Vucevic’s rim-protection all we want, but nobody stops Giannis Antetokounmpo. Not to mention, Vucevic was the only reason the Bulls were even in that game for any amount of time at all. Instead, the (lack of) execution from both DeRozan and Zach LaVine sunk the Bulls yesterday. One night after his most efficient performance in weeks, DeRozan started just 2-11 from the field and finished 10-23 with a -16. LaVine ended 6-16 from the field with a -12. The Bulls aren’t going to be the top-3 teams in either conference when their two All-Stars shoot the ball this way. Simple as that.
• Javonte Green left a bit early because he was feeling under the weather. Hopefully, he’s good by tomorrow night.
Billy Donovan said Javonte Green is dealing with a non-COVID illness. He played 20 minutes, went to locker room at one point. With game out of hand, Donovan didn't go back to him.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 23, 2022
• A message to all the Bucks fans who asked if I wanted to take my Grayson Allen boos back after last night’s loss: *Inhales* BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
Alex Caruso when he sees Grayson Allen tonight: pic.twitter.com/xWryTCj4A5
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 22, 2022
• OH. MY. ZION.
• The NFL is … nuts.
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) March 23, 2022