The return of Derrick Rose should have been a happy occasion. The Bulls had an Eastern Conference bottom-feeder in the Orlando Magic on the schedule and the five games left in the regular season seemed like the perfect trial run for Rose before the playoffs started. When the Bulls opened up a 15 point lead in the second quarter, this looked like it would be a good night.
Unfortunately, things are rarely easy against the Magic, a team that has provided the Bulls with a fair amount of trouble over the last two seasons. The lead was down to seven by half, and the Bulls' struggles against poor teams started to creep back into the equation. The Magic realized Chicago's worst fears with a dominant fourth quarter to get a 105-103 win over the Bulls. It drops Tom Thibodeau's team to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference after the Toronto Raptors took care of business against the Hornets.
How frustrating was this game?
This is probably the worst loss of the season.— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) April 9, 2015
Yeah. The Bulls don't just have a habit of playing down the competition, they have a tendency to look like they're going through the motions without the slightest hint of urgency against teams they should beat. It's been happening all season and now it might force the Bulls into a first round rematch with the Wizards in the playoffs.
The Bulls found themselves down two with 1:03 to play when rookie Aaron Gordon pulled up for a mid-range jumper and drained it. Chicago answered with free throws from Pau Gasol with six seconds left, but it gave Victor Oladipo enough time to drive the ball to the rim for the game-winning basket. Bulls lose.
Victor Oladipo! Way too easy. https://t.co/fRYrfU6SLJ— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) April 9, 2015
Not to sound too morbid, but there weren't a lot of positives here. It was a very frustrating game. Joakim Noah and Gasol got their lunch ate by Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 22 points and seven rebounds on 9-of-16 shooting from the field. Rookie Elfrid Payton predictably gave Rose and Aaron Brooks some trouble, as the big, athletic point guard put up 17 points and nine assists. Oladipo led all scorers with 23 points.
Rose looked alright. He was way too willing to settle for three-pointers (1-of-6 from deep), but maybe you can't blame him in his first game back. He did do this, at least:
Nikola Mirotic seemed like he had an off-night but still ended with 15 points on 3-of-11 shooting, thanks to all his makes coming from three-point range. Jimmy Butler was solid (19 points, six assists, five rebounds) and Pau Gasol was underwhelming even while posting 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
Realize the Bulls just lost to a 24-53 team on a night they hit 12-of-26 attempts from three-point range. Orlando was getting to the basket way too easily in the second half and Tom Thibodeau's rotations with everyone finally healthy were extremely frustrating. This was one of those nights when you can fight the feel that Thibs might be a dead man walking, and it won't be undeserved.
The Bulls have four games left, starting tomorrow against the Heat. After that it's vs. the 76ers, at Brooklyn and vs. the Hawks to end the season. The Bulls need to win out to get 50 wins. It's nights like this when it feels like they don't deserve to reach such a plateau.