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?
Per ESPN, the Bulls just became the first team in NBA history to lose back-to-back home games by 25+ points while owning the best record in their conference.— Josh Frydman (@Josh_Frydman) January 15, 2022
Not the kind of history you want to be a part of.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
RAPM is a stat that measures a player's on-court impact per 100 possessions, adjusting for teammates and opponents.— Zach Kram (@zachkram) January 10, 2022
Here's the top of the leaderboard over the last three seasons. Alex Caruso is incredible. pic.twitter.com/tbAmQ4o1rm
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:
Billy Donovan is willing talker with great insight, so long answers from him aren't unusual.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 13, 2022
Even so, his opening answer after #Bulls' loss to Nets was 4 minutes exactly -- an eternity, and it's because he detailed several weaknesses that he felt were about to get exposed. pic.twitter.com/PUozK54iol
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
Patrick Williams' cast is off his injured wrist, Billy Donovan says.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 9, 2022
Donovan called the wrist surgery a "detailed surgery" and Williams continues to progress and work on his range of motion and strength. He has a smaller brace now too for wrist that he wears sometimes.
ONCE AGAIN, I MISS ALEX CARUSO
Bulls supporting Bulls (for the All-Star Game)
This warms my cold, jaded heart.
This week in 3 tweets
40-point advantage alert— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 12, 2022
30-point deficit alert— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 13, 2022
3-point shooter fouled alert— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 13, 2022
But which 40-point deficit is he talking about? It was that kind of week.
It could be worse
It could be much worse.
this was less than a year ago https://t.co/nLyLvVDYuZ— Listen and subscribe to @DennisPodman (@NBACouchside) January 14, 2022
Ayo, the student
This was the coolest moment of the Wizards game:
Ayo Dosunmu said Bradley Beal gave him some advice during the game about how to make this one move. Dosunmu then used the move and said Beal told him, "I didn't say use it on me. I said use it in the future."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 8, 2022
That is classic, KC.
And here’s the play:
The bucket in question (notice Beal shake his head after it goes in) pic.twitter.com/pINXqWLRgZ— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) January 8, 2022
And here’s Beal’s comments on it.
Ayo, the mentor
A 21-year-old (22 in a couple days!) with an old soul.
Find a friend who’ll have your back like Ayo has DeMar’s…pic.twitter.com/v3qQO8M8v7— Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid) January 12, 2022
THE RAT TRAP
Really enjoying this account in general.
‘GarPox’— Chicago Bulls Word of the Day™ (@BullsWOTD) January 12, 2022
: the pox—the disastrous evil, plague, and curse—that was the GarPax regime
“GarPox afflicted #BullsNation for too long. At last, we have been cured by the miracle elixir ‘AKME.’” pic.twitter.com/X8sfUnFKC4
KD loves Chicago
Kevin Durant: "The crowd is starting to rally around the team. The city, you can feel it that they’re starting to understand that Chicago Bulls basketball is back. So for us to come in here and win in this fashion means a lot to us."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 13, 2022
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.
DECEMBER: The Bulls are back— Patrick Cosmos (@veryimportant) January 15, 2022
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
Drake going to Carlos Boozer's barber? https://t.co/e1CBj0SGMk— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 15, 2022
This has been the Booz News.