The Chicago Bulls are just 4-9 since NBA All-Star Weekend and are still in danger of sliding to the play-in tournament. Their struggles against the league’s elite teams have remained a subject of banter in recent weeks. Still, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are preaching a sense of calm.
Chicago has gradually gotten healthier with the returns of Alex Caruso and second-year forward Patrick Williams. LaVine and DeRozan believe the Bulls can still compete with anyone in the NBA when they’re playing at the top of their game.
However, Chicago hasn’t played very sound basketball lately. It could use a kick in the pants in an effort to close the regular season with momentum. Will LaVine and Deebo eventually have to change their tune?
Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan refuse to panic amid the Bulls’ recent struggles
LaVine and DeRozan aren’t fazed by losing.
The Bulls stars are trying to keep recent struggles in perspective. LaVine reminded fans during an interview with Yahoo Sports that Chicago is capable of stringing wins together, such as it did just before the All-Star break.
“Right before the All-Star Game, we won [a lot] in a row, and now, we don’t need to act like the world is on fire. You understand what’s going on, why you’ve lost games and make adjustments.”–Zach LaVine to Yahoo Sports
LaVine suggested that hardship is good for this group. He also reiterated that the Bulls have routinely demonstrated elite shot-making at the end of games throughout the season.
“We rely on ourselves to go out there and make plays and close out teams. I don’t think it’s fool’s gold. Now is it something we can rely on each and every game to win games? No. But it’s an ace in your pocket because we’re able to do that. We’re able to take on that challenge.”–LaVine to Yahoo Sports
DeRozan, meanwhile, pointed to health as a critical factor in the closing stretch.
“We’re only going up from here. We’re getting some key guys back. That’s gonna be a boost of emotional energy, knowledge, experience that we’ll need at a critical time of the season. With that alone, it’ll make us much better, much more confident than anything.”–DeMar DeRozan to Yahoo Sports
Maintaining confidence and instilling a sense of stability are certainly important for the Bulls. But the reality is this team needs to change its tenor in a hurry.
The Bulls must find a spark
The Bulls cannot simply stay the course and expect things to change. Opposing teams are beginning to make adjustments.
DeMar DeRozan has started to see more traps and double teams, a trend that began in earnest in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. Zach LaVine has insisted he can dominate amid ongoing knee pain, but his play has been far too inconsistent. He scored 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting in a win over the Toronto Raptors, only to go 6-of-16 from the field in a blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the following contest.
What’s more, the same issues persist. The Bulls are having an impossible time containing dribble penetration and keeping opponents out of the lane. Milwaukee outscored Chicago 58-34 in the paint and shot 61% from the field on Tuesday. Those numbers are unsustainable.
LaVine said the Bulls can make adjustments, but they haven’t made any. They need to demand more from one another before their season slips away.
Someone must provide that spark. It’s incumbent on LaVine and DeRozan to make Chicago feel like it can compete on a nightly basis.
This upcoming stretch is pivotal
The Bulls’ upcoming road trip could determine their playoff standing.
Chicago has a date with the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. It then travels to Cleveland to take on the No. 6-seeded Cavaliers, who are just one game back in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bulls wrap up the road trip against the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards, respectively.
The Bulls have to win the lion’s share of these games. They are only 2.0 games ahead of the No. 7-seeded Toronto Raptors. Four of their final five games come against Eastern Conference contenders in the Miami Heat, Bucks, and Boston Celtics, along with a season-ending contest against a Minnesota Timberwolves squad that has been one of the hottest squads in the NBA since the All-Star break.
It’s put up or shut up time for Chicago. The Bulls cannot fall back on improved health or past successes, especially given that Lonzo Ball remains out of the lineup and teams have consistently found holes in Chicago’s game.
LaVine and DeRozan must be wary of the fact that the Bulls could slip to the play-in range, something they’d assuredly like to avoid. At some point, urgency is needed.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.