Thanks to a second-half pummeling by the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls have now stumbled into 6th place.
They sit a half-game behind the Toronto Raptors and 2.0 games ahead of the 7th-place Cleveland Cavaliers. All of that can change again later today, however, as the Cavs battle the 76ers and the Raptors face the Heat. The good news is that swapping spots with Cleveland and falling into the Play-In Tournament remains highly unlikely with just four games to go, as Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report has upped the Bulls’ chance at a top-6 seed to 93.0 percent. But I think we’ll only feel comfortable once a spot is officially clinched, and doing that will not get any easier this week.
• The first words that came out of Billy Donovan’s mouth in his postgame press conference were as simple as they were frustrating: “We have a long way to go to be at their level.” Down 9 points heading into halftime before being outscored 32-22 in the 3rd quarter, the game was all but over by the time the clock started ticking in the final frame. The Bulls didn’t just look one step behind, they looked lapped. And, unfortunately, that has been the story of the season against the top squads in each conference. The Bulls are 2-19 versus the Heat, Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, Suns, Grizzlies, Warriors, and Mavericks. In the East, they have been swept by the Heat and 76ers, and the Bucks have a chance to go for their 4-0 record this Tuesday at the United Center.
• I keep trying to remind myself the slate is wiped to 0-0 once the playoffs tip-off, but I’m not sure how reassuring that actually feels when the Bulls refuse to play a competitive game against any of these teams ahead of them. The last three losses to Miami were by double-digits, the last two losses to Philly were by double-digits, and the last loss to Milwaukee was by 26 points. They have at least split the series against the Celtics, only losing by 2 points in January, but those two contests also came before Boston’s remarkable resurgence (they have won 14 of 18 games since the All-Star break). The Bulls now have just two more opportunities to prove the gap isn’t as far as we think it is with matchups against the Bucks and Celtics later this week (oh, and they are on back-to-back nights … woohoo!).
• Chicago is going to stand no chance in the playoffs if they can’t find a way to hit some dang 3-pointers. Not only do they continue to take the fewest attempts from downtown per game, but a percentage that once sat at the top of the league has ranked just 27th since the All-Star break. The discrepancy in 3-point shooting ability was on full display again last night as the Heat drained 17 of their 34 shots from behind the arc, whereas the Bulls shot just 9 of 34.
• While we can point fingers in a handful of directions, it’s arguably easiest to point at Coby White. A streaky player, White has picked the absolute worst time to go stone-cold from deep. He is shooting just 29.4 percent from behind the arc in March on nearly 5.3 attempts per game. White shot 1-7 against the Clippers before his 0-7 performance last night, and it’s only further hampered a Bulls’ second unit that has been one of the worst at scoring the basketball this season. Now, to be fair to White, he has made strides as a playmaker and defender this season, but is it enough to justify keeping him on the floor when his shot isn’t falling? Probably not, especially when the opposing team has a player like Jimmy Butler who is begging to be switched onto him every possession.
• Read the quote from White that K.C. Johnson shares below. Done? Cool. I’ve already seen some people have a problem with those words, and I can’t say I fully understand why. Sure, you’re mad at White for being colder than Antarctica. I totally get that. But what do we want him to say?
“It doesn’t matter if I go 0-for-10 or if I go for 0-for-11. The bad thing would be if I stopped shooting, if I stopped taking open shots.”
An upbeat, undeterred Coby White vows to keep shooting through slump.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 3, 2022
• “Shooters shoot” isn’t just a funny phrase, it’s 100 percent the mentality many NBA players are taught to have. As a player who was shooting over 40.0 percent from downtown until the end of February, we know how effective White can be, especially in catch-and-shoot situations. Again, I believe White should have a shorter leash at times if his shot isn’t falling, but his job is to stretch the floor and chuck it. I want him to continue to do that when he is out there to try to break out of this slump. The literal last thing I want is for him to curl up into the fetal position and moan.
• Why can’t this team just stay healthy? Donovan made clear after last night’s game that Alex Caruso is “not right” as he continues to play through a back injury. While he said there is no specific minutes restriction – or fear the injury will get worse – the head coach did say he is watching Caruso’s minutes closely, which is likely why he only played 21 minutes last night. It’s still better than nothing to have his defensive IQ out on the floor, but it’s clear he’s hobbling on a handful of possessions, and there is no question that is a big concern with the playoffs looming.
Billy Donovan acknowledges Alex Caruso’s back spasms are a “problem”
“He’s just not right” Donovan said, although he says it’s nothing long-term. Caruso went 0-2 tonight in 22 minutes
— Jamal Collier (@JamalCollier) April 3, 2022
Billy Donovan calls Alex Caruso's ailing back a "problem."
"He's hobbled," Donovan says.
Caruso asked out at one point in the 3rd quarter. Donovan wants to keep Caruso's minutes below 28.
It's back spasms, not a long-term issue, Donovan says.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) April 3, 2022
• So the Raptors get a Celtics team without Tatum and now they get a Heat team without Jimmy? Cool. Cool. Cool.
Heat injury report vs. Raptors:
Jimmy Butler, Out, Left Big Toe; Irritation
Dewayne Dedmon, Questionable, Right Ankle; Sprain
Caleb Martin, Questionable, Right Calf; Contusion
Gabe Vincent, Out, Right Big Toe; Contusion
Javonte Smart, Out, Not With Team https://t.co/qEAJ74U6N6
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) April 3, 2022
• Bright Side Alert: Patrick Williams had another very encouraging and aggressive performance. Something has potentially clicked for the second-year forward, and it might be time to hand him even more playing time.
So Patrick Williams just did this on back-to-back possessions: pic.twitter.com/PVOZNPjKzO
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) April 3, 2022
• Things have gotten really rough for the Utah Jazz.
This is absolutely wild pic.twitter.com/1O7CdtTiS5
— Denver📉 (@doubledworth) April 3, 2022
• Draft well, please. Maybe AK can help.
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) April 3, 2022
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 3, 2022