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The Chicago Bulls desperately needed to begin their West Coast swing with a win over a lowly Sacramento Kings team. But the Bulls got off to a slow start and could not recover, losing 112-103 in one of the more frustrating games of the season.

Team defense has long been an issue for the depleted Bulls. The return of Alex Caruso certainly helped matters in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers last week, but Chicago once again showed a concerning lack of discipline and communication against the Kings.

Still, other trends are beginning to emerge, and they’re equally concerning.

Slow starts are becoming habitual for the Bulls

The Bulls looked sluggish to start Monday’s game against the Kings.

Chicago scored just 17 points in the first quarter, shooting 6-of-24 from the field and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. The offensive woes allowed Sacramento to open up a 10-point first-quarter lead. The Kings extended the lead to 20 at the half, outscoring the Bulls 36-26 during the second period. Chicago committed six turnovers during the quarter and struggled from beyond the arc.

Head coach Billy Donovan’s team tried to claw its way back in the second half. The Bulls cut the lead to just one point with over seven minutes to play in the fourth and trailed by four with three minutes left. But they could not complete the comeback.

Bad starts are becoming all too prevalent for Chicago as of late.

The Bulls got outscored 26-25 in the first quarter of a March 9 matchup with the Detroit Pistons, shooting 1-of-7 from beyond the arc. Stout defense and strong shooting helped them build a lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 12, but they still had eight first-quarter turnovers.

DeMar DeRozan and Co. have typically thrived late in games. However, Chicago’s early-game woes are becoming a legitimate concern.

DeMar DeRozan doubles pose problems

DeRozan’s mid-range dominance has helped him become an NBA MVP candidate. But teams are forcing Chicago’s other options to beat them, and it’s working.

The Kings sent consistent traps at DeRozan throughout Monday’s contest. He finished the game 7-of-17 from the field. Of greater import, however, is the fact that he took only five field-goal attempts in the first half. The Bulls needed Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic to shoulder the scoring load. They couldn’t do it.

LaVine made his return to the rotation after missing the Cavaliers game with a knee issue that continues to give him problems. He looked rusty, shooting 2-of-6 in the first half and missing both of his field-goal attempts in the second quarter. Vucevic looked better in the second period, but he also shot 2-of-6 to start the game.

The Bulls cannot rely on DeRozan to consistently set the tone. At some point, LaVine must work through the knee and be more aggressive getting downhill, as he did in the third quarter when he scored 12 points and made all eight of his free-throw attempts. Meanwhile, Chicago must also find a way to get Vucevic deeper post position on a more consistent basis and open up the floor for shooters.

LaVine is playing banged up, and inconsistency has plagued Vucevic throughout the season. But that cannot be an excuse every time the Bulls struggle out of the gate. Otherwise, teams will continue to double DeRozan and force him to play hero ball or test Chicago’s other scoring options.

No rest for the weary

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine looks on during an NBA game against the Sacramento Kings in March 2022
Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls looks on in the second half of a game against the Sacramento Kings on March 14, 2022 | Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

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The Bulls have little time to wade through the waters.

Chicago came out of All-Star weekend with the most challenging remaining schedule. That slate becomes especially difficult over the next few games.

The Bulls conclude their West Coast swing with showdowns against top Western Conference contenders in the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. They then host a Toronto Raptors team currently on a four-game winning streak before traveling to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks.

This is a pivotal stretch. Chicago is still the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, but it only has a three-game advantage on the No. 7-seeded Raptors. The Bulls could very well find themselves in the play-in tournament if they cannot remedy some of these concerns.

It’s put up or shut up time in the Windy City.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.