The Chicago Bulls’ Crushing Loss to the Warriors Proves They Need Defensive Reinforcements

At least the Chicago Bulls can say they’re still in first place. But that’s where the optimism stops after back-to-back embarrassing losses.

After losing 138-112 to the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, Chicago fell flat on its face at home against the Golden State Warriors. Not only did the Bulls fall 138-96, but Zach LaVine went down with an injury in the process. Needless to say, consecutive games with 138 points allowed is a sign that maybe some defensive adjustments (or additions) are necessary.

The Chicago Bulls got blown out for the second straight game

Very recently, the Bulls won nine games in a row to propel them up to the top seed of the Eastern Conference. But they’re just 1-3 following the streak, with two losses that should deeply concern anyone associated with the six-time champions.

Wednesday night, Chicago allowed 37 or more points in three quarters against Brooklyn. James Harden and Kevin Durant were two of the four Nets with 20 points or more as they handed the Bulls their most second-most-lopsided loss of the season.

But Friday was a whole new level of bad for the 27-13 Bulls.

The Warriors, who came into Chicago one night after getting humiliated by the Milwaukee Bucks, had their way with the Bulls from the jump. Golden State scored 37 points in the first quarter before outscoring the home team 41-19 in the second. By the end of the night, the Dubs handed the Bulls a 42-point loss, their worst of the season.

“There are no excuses,” Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said in the postgame press conference. “We have to build habits as a team on the things we can control. Transition defense, communication, blocking out, taking care of the ball — those are things that have nothing to do, in my opinion, with injuries and people being out.”

Speaking of injuries, the Bulls can at least attribute part of the loss to LaVine exiting the game just over three minutes into the first. The All-Star guard experienced discomfort in his knee while going up for a rebound. Fortunately, no significant structural damage was uncovered in the MRI, but he will miss Saturday’s matchup against the Boston Celtics.

Defense needs to start becoming a priority for the Bulls

Just a little while ago, the Bulls were one of the few clubs with a top-10 offense and defense. But thanks to the last two games and some concerning stretches during their win streak, that’s no longer the case.

Entering the weekend, Chicago is 17th in the NBA with 108.6 points allowed per game and 18th in defensive rating. Their 110.1 d-rating, which looks at points allowed per 100 possessions, is one spot beneath the 14-27 Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, seven Eastern Conference teams are in better defensive standing than the Bulls.

Equally concerning, Chicago has allowed 117 points or more in six of its last 10 games. Four of those came during the winning streak, but the most recent two are the worst … and the most troubling.

Although Donovan won’t attribute the drop in defense to players being out, it’s at least part of the reason. Aside from the numerous players moving in and out of protocol in the last month, Alex Caruso, the team’s sixth man and strongest perimeter defender, has been out since December 20 after spraining his foot and then going into health and safety protocols. Veteran role players Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr., two solid defenders in their own right, are also on the shelf.

Are internal reinforcements enough to fix the Bulls’ defense?

Despite the humiliating defeats, there is good news on the way. After missing the last 11 games, Caruso is slated to return Wednesday versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. When on the court, Chicago’s defensive rating sits at 105.1, compared to the 113.6 it is when he’s off of it.

That said, the prospects are a little more worrisome for Green and Jones Jr. A surprise starter in Donovan’s regular lineup, Green has yet to appear in the new year after suffering a right adductor strain on December 31. According to a January 3 update from the head coach, the 28-year-old will be out two to four weeks. But considering the lack of recent updates, Green might still have some more recovery time to go.

As for Jones Jr., the former Slam Dunk Contest champ was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee following Wednesday’s loss to Brooklyn. His timeline is also two to four weeks, although bone bruises are notoriously tricky injuries to set an accurate timetable for.

Should Chicago wait for its better defenders to return before making rash decisions, or explore the trade market? The Bulls have been linked to players like Jerami Grant, a talented forward who is also a versatile defender.

Nevertheless, embarrassing losses to two title contenders should serve as a wake-up call for the Bulls to up their defensive effort.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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