I doubt many fans decided to devote two hours of their Saturday night to the Bulls after the embarrassing beating that occurred only 24 hours earlier against the Warriors. But you missed a legitimately solid yet forgettable performance from the Bulls, who fell short 110-102 against the Utah Jazz.
On a back-to-back against one of the best defense’s in the league, the Bulls stayed close to the Jazz for the majority of the game, thanks in large part to a rare appearance from Jabari Parker. Without Bobby Portis, who was a game-time decision due to an elbow injury sustained in the loss to the Warriors, coach Jim Boylen had no choice but to lift Parker out of his exile, promoting the Bulls’ highest-paid player to backup power forward.
Entering the game for Lauri Markkanen late in the first quarter, Parker’s volume scoring was a necessary reprieve for a Bulls offense which found itself quickly down double digits. Acting as the focal point of the second unit, Parker was influential, scoring seven of his 11 points in the second quarter.
While we saw an extended run for Parker, Wayne Selden was equally important off the bench. Jumping ahead of Antonio Blakeney in the rotation (thank you), the newly-acquired wing added 11 points (5-of-7 shooting) while showing glimpses that he has value as a two-way perimeter option off the bench — hustling to prevent a turnover, this fantastic touch pass assist to Shaquille Harrison showcased Selden’s underrated nous and passing skills.
Given both Parker and Selden had sparingly been used over the proceeding games, there was great irony in these two players keeping the Bulls within reaching distance. Because all of the Bulls ‘big three’ in the starting lineup shot poorly.
Markkanen struggled all game to find his rhythm, only scoring 16 points on 17 attempts. While we didn’t see Boylen experiment with Markkanen at small forward as he did against the Warriors (thank you x2), it might be time to begin wondering if Markkanen has the ability required to be a consistent focal point of an offense. Unable to use his size advantage to shoot over smaller units the Jazz were using, the sophomore also had little impact in his dribble-drive game, often failing to create separation, leading to tough, off-balanced heaves that were heavily contested. Worse yet, the Bulls could only register a 95.9 offensive rating while Markkanen was on the floor.
Not that Markkanen was alone in his struggles. Kris Dunn had a difficult night trying to guard Jazz playmaker Donovan Mitchell (though he didn’t think so), who was swerving through pick-and-roll action with ease. Pouring in 12 points in the third quarter, the Bulls had no chance containing Mitchell, who scored a game-high 34 points.
Dunn’s backcourt partner, Zach LaVine, was also largely ineffective. Though he helped kickstart a stalling offense in the fourth quarter, needing 21 shots to score a team-high 21 points is hardly the level of efficiency the Bulls need from LaVine if he’s to remain their highest usage player. LaVine was also yet again a culprit of poor defense, as Kyle Korver was able to reach 3rd all-time in three-point makes while getting some very easy looks.
Of the notable younger players within the starting unit, only Wendell Carter had game-changing moments, reminding everyone that he can be a defensive force in the league.
Despite a highlight block, the rookie center was outmatched against Rudy Gobert, who had 15 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists for the home team.
Remaining winless to start the new year, the Bulls will have two days off before heading to Los Angeles to face a reeling Lakers team, who will remain without LeBron James due to injury. Winners of only four of their last 10 games, this version of the Lakers without James represents the best chance the Bulls will have in stealing a win while touring through the Western Conference.
That, of course, assumes the L.A. nightlife doesn’t get to them first. The players likely want to be distracted from this Bulls season as much as the fans.