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This Week in the Bulls: A REALLY BAD WEEK

This Week in the Bulls goes over a really bad week.

Golden State Warriors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The last time we talked, the Bulls had just won their ninth straight game, a brilliant team-effort against the Washington Wizards headlined by twin bench scoring outbursts from Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. It marked the Bulls’ longest winning streak in a decade, aka Thibs’ first season, and this year was starting to feel every bit as charmed as that one. The Bulls were on top of the Eastern Conference with a nice cushion despite playing so many games with key players sidelined by injuries or the plague. No less of an authority than Steph Noh himself stamped this team as a contender. I did it, too.

Since then, the Bulls lost by 14 points to the Mavericks, lost by 26 points to the Brooklyn Nets, and lost by 42 points to the Golden State Warriors. There was also a 46-point win over the Detroit Pistons in that stretch that’s suddenly starting to feel like a mirage.

Is this good?

No! No, it’s not good.

A mysterious injury to Zach LaVine in the opening minutes of the Warriors game took the air out of the United Center and overshadowed the biggest loss of the season. LaVine took a foul to check himself out four minutes into the game. He walked to the tunnel without a noticeable limp. It was later reported that LaVine has a left knee injury and will undergo an MRI. KC Johnson reported there is “widespread confidence throughout the organization that LaVine has dodged serious injury,” but at time of print we’re still waiting to see the extent of the recovery.

Despite all that, the Bulls are still currently the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, leading the Miami Heat by one game. Let’s screencap the standings to freeze this moment in time because it feels probable they won’t be in that position when I write this column next week, especially given the early news that LaVine won’t travel with the team for their next two games.

I’m of a few different mindsets right now.

  1. If I was too quick to call the Bulls an actual contender after a nine-game winning streak, then I think some of my trusted friends and colleagues are being a little too quick to call them frauds after getting punched repeatedly in the face by two real contenders in Brooklyn and Golden State.
  2. While Billy Donovan took accountability and didn’t want to make excuses, it’s hard to expect the Bulls to compete with the best teams in the league without LaVine, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green, and Patrick Williams. The Bulls are definitely not a contender when Alfonzo McKinnie — who was out of the league until a few weeks ago — is supposed to be their KD stopper.
  3. These injuries and these losses do actually matter quite a bit, but sorry Kris, I don’t give a fuck about the point differential. What’s meaningful here is the race for the No. 1 seed, which the Bulls badly need if they want a favorable path through the playoffs. Any delusions of grandeur start with the Bucks and Nets on the same side of the bracket, and the Bulls on the opposite side.

Yeah, this week has felt like one big bucket of cold water. DJJ likely missing a month due to injury is a big hurdle. LaVine missing any time at all is going to feel devastating. Vooch getting out-played by screen assist gawd Kevon Looney also feels like a kick in the pants. Shit sucks. But. But! I’m not taking this as a sky is falling moment just yet.

What the Bulls really need right now to get healthy. That’s a huge ask when the Bulls haven’t been healthy all season. I also believe the Bulls should make an all-in move for a starting power forward, but now doesn’t really feel like the time for that argument. You can listen to the latest episode of Cash Considerations if you want to hear my pro-Jerami Grant argument.

This week has left me with only one major takeaway: Alex Caruso is way more valuable than he gets credit for being. Hit my music, Kram.

That’s all I got, man. Troy Brown Jr. and McKinnie and Bradley and Matt Thomas and (/deep sigh) Vooch are not going to stop the bleeding. The Bulls need to get whole. I think they need 1-2 more pieces at the deadline, too. Until then, it’s probably not going to get much better.

Praise be, Billy D.

Is it possible this rough stretch has made me appreciate Billy Donovan even more? There are a bunch of tangible basketball things that show Donovan’s aptitude as a coach, but I want to focus on his words for a minute. This isn’t even “at least he’s not Jim Boylen making non-sensical ‘Field of Dreams’ references” — our dude has been adding legitimate thoughtfulness to every situation all year.

Listen to him against that Warriors shit show:

Read him after that Nets shit show:

Read him on the trade deadline discussions:

Let’s also give a shout-out to Cody for transcribing all of this. Trust me, it’s the worst part of the job.

On the court, Billy has consistently his players in the best position to succeed. Derrick Jones Jr. was basically never used as a roll man before this year, Javonte Green — at 6’4 — was never used as a four man. He’s been able to thread the line of pretending to play Lonzo as a point guard to the point where Lonzo can feel good about it without really playing Lonzo as a point guard. The defensive coverages have done a great job giving Vooch a chance to succeed and even thrive. He’s done well to stagger DeMar and Zach all year. I think I’ve seen anyone complain about rotations. He’s good with adjustments both in-game and game-to-game.

Beyond that, Billy just seems like a really solid dude: he has authority with an ego. That’s the dream for any coach. There’s a reason that Joakim Noah and Bradley Beal and a lot of other guys like him so much. I appreciate his ability to communicate with the fans and the players as much as I appreciate his tactics. I don’t know if he’s going to win Coach of the Year — Tom Ziller has a good breakdown here, subscribe to his newsletter — but I do know that he’s been a true blessing for this team.

Patrick Williams injury update

ONCE AGAIN, I MISS ALEX CARUSO

RT.

Bulls supporting Bulls (for the All-Star Game)

This warms my cold, jaded heart.

This week in 3 tweets

But which 40-point deficit is he talking about? It was that kind of week.

It could be worse

It could be much worse.

Ayo, the student

This was the coolest moment of the Wizards game:

That is classic, KC.

And here’s the play:

And here’s Beal’s comments on it.

Ayo, the mentor

A 21-year-old (22 in a couple days!) with an old soul.

THE RAT TRAP

Really enjoying this account in general.

KD loves Chicago

A completely baseless prediction: Kevin Durant will play for the Bulls before he retires. How’s that for some optimism during a shit week!?!

I talked about the Bulls on 670 The Score

Shout-out to my boy Mark Grote for asking me to be on the show. We had a 22-minute conversation about the Bulls just before the winning streak ended.

In conclusion

WILL WE FIND OUR WAY BACK HOME?

Can’t even read that song title without the chorus getting stuck in my head for 15 minutes and derailing all productivity.

The Booz News

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