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Coaching decisions factored into Bulls defeat

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Hoiball strikes again as Bulls drop a stinker in Orlando

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls led by as many as 13 points Wednesday night, but managed to score just 40 points in the second half and just 14 in the final quarter. While the Bulls were without Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler was reportedly under the weather, this was a game the Bulls should have won regardless. Unfortunately, Fred Hoiberg’s run of poor decisions throughout the night were too big of a burden for the Bulls to overcome.

Playcalling

For the millionth time this season, the Bulls offense devolved into nothing but Jimmy Butler isolations in the fourth quarter. When Dwyane Wade is playing, the Bulls can sometimes get away with this strategy as the two All-Stars take turns running the offense down the stretch. But without Wade, Butler, who played 38 minutes, was unable to keep the offense afloat. Earlier in the season, when Butler was really in a groove, the Bulls pulled off some ugly wins thanks to heroic shot making from Butler. Unfortunately, things haven’t been the same since the Bulls beat the Thunder on February 1.

Fred Hoiberg was right to have relied so heavily on Jimmy early in the season. But now that his workhorse seems to be slowing down, Hoiberg has failed to even attempt to adjust.

What’s most frustrating about the recent fourth quarter woes is that the Bulls are actually effective when they run their offensive sets in the early parts of the game. When the Bulls initiate their offense early, they are able to create driving lanes off of pitch plays and pick out shooters and cutters while the defense struggles to keep up. It is painful to see these useful tools that create efficient scoring opportunities go completely unused in crunch time.

It’s not fair to completely blame Hoiberg for the late game stagnation. Players are naturally fatigued in the final minutes, and defenses are locked in and can take away some of the pet plays that may have worked earlier in the game. But what is inexcusable are the plays the Bulls ran after timeouts in this game.

Down by four with 1:16 left in the game, the Hoiberg drew up a uniquely horrible play to run after a timeout. After Butler dribbles in place at the top of the key for several seconds, Rajon Rondo runs up to set a screen. Elfrid Payton giddily abandons his man, Rondo, to double Butler and force the ball out of his hands. When Rondo receives the pass, he looks to the near corner for a shooter, but nobody is there. He then swings the ball back to Butler for a difficult, contested three pointer.

Lauvergne, surely

Hoiberg’s poor decision making went beyond the X’s and O’s in this game. Nikola Mirotic inexplicably received a DNP while the recently acquired Joffrey Lauvergne played 29 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter.

It’s one thing to redistribute minutes to a player who’s shown some flashes in games over a player who has struggled on the court. But to hand over the vast majority of power forward minutes to a player who did not play one minute of the last three games is simply inexplicable.

To his credit, Lauvergne actually had a very effective stint early in the game that likely influenced Fred’s decision making down the stretch. King Joffrey scored five points on three shot attempts, grabbed three rebounds, and played with great intensity in the first half.

But Lauvergne was unable to sustain his hot start in the second half and failed to score another field goal. And even worse than his disappearing offensive impact was his defense and rebounding. The Bulls were unable to finish defensive possessions in the fourth quarter, surrendering five offensive rebounds that led to four Magic points. Lauvergne was at the center of every rebounding scrum, and was unable to swing any of the 50-50 plays in the Bulls’ favor.

I understand Hoiberg’s curiosity in Lauvergne, but the Bulls, allegedly making a playoff push, can not afford to simply ignore the contributions that Mirotic makes on a nightly basis. Yes, Mirotic has been in a season-long shooting slump, but it cannot be ignored that Niko is the only Bull in the non-Butler division with a positive net rating this season. Mirotic’s offensive versatility, defense, and rebounding continue to be underappreciated by this organization.

Two point guards are worse than one

Your friendly Bullsblogger was spot on when he anticipated that Fred would not know how to best use all of the mediocre point guards on the roster. On Wednesday night, the point guard carousel rolled on.

With Dwyane Wade out, Hoiberg did not have many great options in his guard rotation. But his decision to play the entire fourth quarter with two point guards on the court was not a wise one. Rajon Rondo played all 12 of the final minutes, and shared the court with either Cameron Payne or Jerian Grant for the entire period.

The Rondo-Payne pair created a spacing nightmare for the Bulls. If Hoiberg is going to overly rely on Butler, he needs to at least give him a chance to succeed. When Lauvergne is the only shooting threat on the floor, Butler’s already difficult task becomes impossible.

Cameron Payne has not looked good in his short Bulls tenure, but it’s hard to fault him too much when he’s played so many minutes as the nominal shooting guard next to Rondo. Hoiberg is right to give Payne an opportunity to play serious minutes with the starters, but he deserves time at the position that GarPax brought him here to play.