Chicago Bulls News: Blowout Loss to Heat Worsened by Alex Caruso Injury Update

The Chicago Bulls still hold the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They’ve stood tall in the face of injuries and, at full strength, remain as strong a contender as any in the NBA. However, trouble continues to bubble below the surface.

Chicago came out of All-Star Weekend with a win over the Atlanta Hawks, thanks largely to the continued heroics of mid-range master DeMar DeRozan, who scored 37 points in the contest. But the Bulls have since lost two straight at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat, respectively.

Monday’s loss against the Heat served as another reminder that Chicago hasn’t been able to hang with the elite teams in the league this season. Head coach Billy Donovan bluntly stated as much in his postgame press conference.

What’s worse, the defensive backcourt must carry on without Alex Caruso, whose timeline for return took a hit before Monday’s game.

Billy Donovan rips the Bulls after lifeless performance

The Bulls had a chance to send a message to the No. 1 seeded Heat in the 305. Instead, Miami showed Chicago why it is currently on another tier of title contenders.

The Heat swarmed the Bulls right from the jump, doubling Nikola Vucevic at the elbows and on post touches while blitzing Chicago’s ball-handlers at the point of attack. The Bulls had seven turnovers in the first quarter, which played a significant role in Miami opening a nine-point lead after the first quarter.

Although Chicago clawed back into the contest, the Heat quickly retook control in the third period. Miami repeatedly attacked the Bulls on straight-line drives and got easy transition offense.

The game was essentially over heading into the fourth, and the contest favored the Heat to a far greater extent than a 112-99 final score might indicate. Miami’s bench outscored Chicago 49-23. The Heat harassed the Bulls into contested jumpers and collapsed on everything at the rim, generating far easier looks on the other end of the floor.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan hopes the game serves as a wake-up call for his players.

Donovan said (h/t 670 The Score) Chicago hasn’t been “battle-tested” and that it needs more consistency against the NBA’s top teams. He noted that, while off shooting nights happen, habits cannot fluctuate so drastically.

Perhaps Alex Caruso could reinforce those habits upon his eventual return from a wrist injury. Unfortunately for the Bulls, that is still a ways away.

Alex Caruso might not return until April

Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso argues with an official during an NBA game in November 2021
Alex Caruso #6 of the Chicago Bulls argues with a referee in the second half against the New York Knicks on November 21, 2021 | Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Caruso gave the Bulls a legitimate anchor early in the season. His impact has been abundantly clear in a myriad of games. Chicago needs AC back, and his return to practice on Monday seems to bode well.

But it’s not that simple.

Donovan said (h/t NBC Sports Chicago) before the Heat loss that Caruso’s injured wrist still needs strengthening. He has to build back up before participating in contact drills, and Donovan revealed it could be a couple of weeks before that happens.

If Caruso needs at least two more weeks before taking contact, he could just as easily need two more to ramp things back up. That puts his return closer to April.

Given that Caruso always had a 6-to-8-week timeline, and his injury occurred near the end of January, it’s not entirely surprising that he’ll be on the shelf a while longer. Still, the news is troubling for the Bulls, a team on very uncertain ground.

Can the Bulls find stability?

The depleted Bulls always had to face a brutal schedule coming out of the break. At some point, though, Chicago needs to prove something.

After Monday’s loss to the Heat, the Bulls are a combined 0-7 against Miami, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Milwaukee Bucks. They’re also a combined 0-4 against the Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors. That won’t hold come playoff time.

Yes, it’s hard to know what to make of Chicago when it is still missing Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball, and Patrick Williams. However, none of those guys are likely to be available until the end of the month or into April. Alas, the Bulls need to compete harder and find new ways to win.

Time will tell whether Billy Donovan and his players make the necessary adjustments. For now, Caruso’s injury and persistent struggles against top teams should have fans worried about slipping to the play-in tournament, let alone competing for an NBA championship.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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