The Bulls made big headlines before Wednesday night’s game against the Pelicans, trading Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker for Otto Porter Jr. Unfortunately, a game did have to be played at the United Center, and the Bulls’ defense got pantsed again versus a skeleton Pelicans squad, 125-120. The Bulls have lost nine straight home games, tying a franchise record.
Anthony Davis didn’t play in his hometown as his trade saga continues, and old friends Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore also sat out. Toss in Elfrid Payton being sidelined, and the Pelicans were effectively missing their entire starting lineup outside of Jrue Holiday.
It didn’t matter against a terrible Bulls defense.
Holiday had a poor shooting night (6-of-19), but he controlled the game and dished out 11 assists as the Pelicans shot 52.9 percent from the field and 15-of-35 from 3. The guard got wherever he wanted and only turned it over once, leading to good looks galore at the rim and from 3-land. In fact, the Pelicans scored all 125 points either in the paint (60), from 3 (45) or at the free-throw line (20).
While Holiday was solid, Julius Randle was the star for the Pelicans. He returned from a five-game absence to pour in a game-high 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and three assists. He even knocked down a career-high four triples, with three of them coming in the fourth quarter as the Pelicans built a lead as large as 13 points with just over four minutes to go.
The Bulls made a final push and did some nice stat-padding, but they didn’t get within five points the rest of the game. Randle scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter.
It initially looked like the Bulls were going to take advantage of this ragtag Pelicans squad by running them out of the gym. They made 14 of their first 17 shot attempts to start the game to build a 12-point lead (lots of Zach LaVine and Robin Lopez), but Randle reeled the Bulls back in by going to work against a really small lineup. By the time the first-quarter dust settled, it was 39-37 Bulls.
The Bulls again created separation in the second quarter by going up 11, but they once again finished the quarter poorly and led 65-64 at halftime. While the defense was getting torched, the offense was playing well, with LaVine and Lauri Markkanen each taking six 3-pointers in the opening half and the Bulls racking up 18 assists.
Things went to hell in the third quarter, though, as the Bulls’ offense went into one of their patented ruts. They shot just 4-of-21 from the field in the quarter, with players not named Markkanen going 2-of-18. The Pelicans, meanwhile, dominated in the paint (18 points in the quarter) and opened up a nine-point advantage heading into the final frame.
Shaq Harrison gave the Bulls a nice boost of energy to start the fourth quarter, but they simply couldn’t get enough stops. Kris Dunn also came alive a bit with 11 of his 18 points in the final frame, but again, there were just no stops to be had as the Pelicans hit enough free throws to close it out.
While the Pelicans were extremely shorthanded, the Bulls’ own lack of depth showed up thanks to their injuries and the Porter trade. Led by Randle, the Pelicans racked up 63 bench points to just 27 for the Bulls. Cristiano Felicio and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot both got extended run, and while TLC had a few nice buckets to start his Bulls debut, he shot just 3-of-11 in 19 minutes and botched a fast-break dunk:
Welcome to the Chicago Bulls Timothe! pic.twitter.com/lCIWIILt3n— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) February 7, 2019
On a positive note, Markkanen scored 30 points for the second straight game and did it on an efficient 10-of-19 shooting and 5-of-10 from 3. LaVine put up an impressive 28/8/7 stat line on 10-of-21 shooting, but he was also a minus-11, which basically sums up his entire career.
The Bulls did shoot nearly 50 percent for the game and went 16-of-36 on 3-pointers, but their pathetic defense cost them in this game, as well as that one bad shooting quarter. They’re now 12-42 on the season and will face the Nets again in Brooklyn on Friday.