The Chicago Bulls got smacked around by the Memphis Grizzlies on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, marking a third blowout loss in a span of four games. As ugly as the result ended up being, the play looked even worse, especially Chicago’s futile offensive efforts without Lonzo Ball.
The Bulls are already without Zach LaVine, though his MRI results came back clean after he suffered a knee injury against the Golden State Warriors last week. But head coach Billy Donovan’s team is also still minus its starting point guard.
Without Ball, the Bulls looked hopeless against a relentless Grizzlies defense.
Lonzo Ball has missed each of the last two games
Lonzo Ball has been somewhat in and out of the Bulls’ rotation for the past three-plus weeks.
For a long stretch, Ball appeared just about the only Chicago player capable of avoiding the NBA’s health and safety protocols. But he, too, hit the shelf on Dec. 26, just days after making comments about how he’d seemingly managed to stay away from COVID-19.
Ball returned to the Bulls on Jan. 3. Largely unbeknownst to the public, however, is that he’d already been experiencing some issues with his left knee.
The Chino Hills native popped up on the injury report and was eventually downgraded to “Out” for a Jan. 15 matchup with the Boston Celtics. Donovan said before the game that Ball had felt soreness in his knee joint for “some time,” per Cody Westerlund of 670 The Score, and that Chicago planned to give him extended rest.
Indeed, Ball sat down once again during Monday’s game against the Grizzlies. The Bulls showcased some sloppy basketball without their floor general.
The Bulls got exposed without Ball
The Bulls typically do an excellent job of taking care of the basketball. That certainly wasn’t the case against a Grizzlies team that feeds off turnovers.
Chicago committed 12 turnovers in the first half and 17 through the first three quarters. The Bulls could not control the rock in the first quarter, with eight giveaways for the period. Memphis exposed a depleted Chicago team’s lack of depth and assuredness on the offensive end. Lonzo Ball’s absence loomed large.
Although Ball isn’t the most high-usage guy, his vision forces defenses to remain honest and not take so many gambles in the passing lanes, which the Grizzlies excel at doing. Additionally, his shooting efficiency spaces the floor and opens things up that much more for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Not so coincidentally, Ball’s continued absence had a particularly gross impact on those guys in Memphis.
DeRozan committed a pair of ugly turnovers in the first quarter and probably could have been credited with as many as four. He shot 2-of-8 in the second quarter. Vucevic — who had actually been a real positive amid Chicago’s losing streak — took just four shots in the entire first half and finished the contest a woeful 2-of-13 from the field.
The starting backcourt also struggled without Ball. Coby White occasionally kept the Bulls involved with his scoring but failed to get back in transition and looked lost defending away from the rock. Ayo Dosunmu had a tremendous two-way showing and played strong defense on Ja Morant, yet he committed four turnovers.
The Bulls were always going to struggle with so many guys still unavailable. But a shaky performance against an energetic, active, and pacy Grizzlies squad illustrates the necessity of getting Ball in particular back on the floor as soon as possible.
Can the Bulls weather the storm?
After four straight losses, the Bulls have come crashing down to the surface. They now find themselves in a tie atop the Eastern Conference with a red-hot Miami Heat team that looks all the more dangerous with Bam Adebayo back in the lineup.
Can Chicago stop the skid and find rejuvenation? Possibly. Reinforcements are on the way. Alex Caruso and Javonte Green could return for Wednesday’s date with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They should inject the Bulls with energy and defensive effort.
Still, the Bulls do not have a specific timeline for Ball or LaVine. Until there’s more clarity on those fronts, Chicago must clean things up and find more togetherness on both ends of the floor.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.