Thanks to the Sixers’ loss to the Nuggets, the Bulls had a chance to move into third place in the Eastern Conference with a win over the lowly Kings on Monday to start a three-game West Coast road trip. Instead, the Bulls came out and played one of their worst halves of the season before coming back and making a game of it, only to fall short in a truly terrible 112-103 defeat.
The first half of this game was absolutely disgusting, with Zach LaVine playing some of his worst basketball of the season in his return to the lineup as he continues to deal with his knee problem. He had just five points on 2-of-8 shooting and was a team-worst minus-24, though he had plenty of help in the suckage category from basically the entire starting lineup.
The Bulls were simply not ready to play in this game, which is not unacceptable at this point in the season against the worst opponent left on the schedule. They shot 6-of-24 from the field in the opening quarter to trail by 10, and then after some nice minutes from the bench made it a game again, the starters returned and got punked. Alex Caruso had a rough first half as well in his second half back. De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Davion Mitchell totally dominated the Bulls as the Kings ran up a 21-point lead at one point before settling on a 63-43 advantage at the break.
Chicago, and notably LaVine and Vucevic, came out with noticeably more energy in the third quarter, seemingly embarrassed by that embarrassing first-half display. Both players scored 12 points apiece in the third quarter, with LaVine getting to the foul line eight times as he finally started to attack the basket. They closed to within seven points midway through the frame and then trailed by 11 heading into the fourth.
It looked like the Bulls were actually going to pull off this big comeback for a bit there in the final frame. DeMar DeRozan finally started getting going after a sluggish first three quarters (the Kings had been trapping him hard), and the Kings were going full Kangz and looking all out of sorts against a ramped-up Bulls defense. Chicago trimmed the deficit to 90-89 and had the ball with eight minutes to play.
That’s where the comeback really lost steam.
Coby White missed a wide-open 3-point attempt that would have given the Bulls a two-point lead, and the Kings then responded with a 6-0 run to push the margin back out to seven. Chicago hung around but just missed too many open looks from 3-point land down the stretch, going 2-of-10 from deep in the final quarter and just 10-of-34 for the game. The Bulls barely cracked 40% shooting overall against one of the worst defenses in the NBA.
LaVine finished with a game-high 27 points, but five of those were basically late stat-padding and it’s hard to say he played well given the Bulls were outscored by 21 points in his 36 minutes. Fox was by far the best player on the court in this game as he continues to crush it of late, going for 34/6/6 while shooting 13-of-25 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range. He was a game-best plus-16.
Vucevic had a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and he actually went 3-of-7 from deep after struggling for so long with his 3-point shooting. It was also nice to see him answer the call in the third quarter to match Sabonis’ physicality, but this was after he mostly got smoked in the first half, and the fourth quarter wasn’t exactly pretty for him.
DeRozan had 21/7/6, but this was a rather nondescript game for him as he shot just 7-of-17 from the field and struggled to break free against the traps. Ayo Dosunmu had an awful game, missing all five of his 3-point attempts and just not doing much of anything.
The bench showed some spunk, with White going for 13 points and Tristan Thompson really mucking it up and wreaking some havoc with his energy and physicality. Caruso had some nice hustle plays as well, but he struggled with his shot and turned the ball over four times.
With this loss, the Bulls are now 41-27 and still in fourth place, but they’re just half a game ahead of the Celtics, two games ahead of the Cavaliers (they beat the Clippers in OT) and three games ahead of the seventh-seeded Raptors (they destroyed the Lakers). Coming up are road games in Utah and Phoenix, then a home game against Toronto, and then a road game in Milwaukee to start a five-game trip. The Bulls are in a precarious situation right now after laying this egg, and they’re going to need to buckle down and come up with some big wins ... otherwise the play-in tournament could become a reality.