Lackluster would not be strong enough a word to describe the current stretch for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls 10-35 start to the season is the second worst in franchise history through the 45-game mark.
Their league-worst nine-game skid dates back to Dec. 30, when they lost to the second place Raptors by only six points. That was not at all a bad loss for the fourteenth place Chicago squad. They then lost to the Magic in the United Center by 28 points before taking another playoff team, the Indiana Pacers, to overtime. Zach Lavine was .3 of a second away from nailing a game tying three-point shot. The game against the Pacers made it seem like the Bulls were on the right track and trending upwards, but in their next matchup against the Nets they were blown out by 17. That is when things went from bad to worse for the stop-a-Bulls.
After having already dropped four straight games, the Bulls set off on what was likely their toughest stretch of five games of the season. Chicago played four Western Conference playoff teams in that stretch. This included three of the top four teams in the west. In the Bulls defense, these were all games that on paper they should have lost. But it was in the manner in which they lost them that has been so disappointing to fans and players alike.
After Thursday’s 30-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Bulls have now lost 10 games this season by 25 or more points. That is the most of any team in the NBA.
Earlier this week, the Bulls played a Lakers team that did not feature Lebron James. A Lakers squad that in their last game had lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are the only team with a worse record than the Bulls in the NBA.
The road trip has also caused even more strife inside the locker room for the Bulls. Following the loss to the Lakers, Lavine told the media that it was “getting hard” to play for the Bulls, and that the players lacked effort and intensity. Not exactly what you want to hear from your young star who signed a four-year $78 million contract last offseason if you’re the Bulls front office. But then again, does the Bulls front office really care about the team’s performance anyway?
John Paxson and Gar Foreman have made questionable decision after questionable decision while they have been in charge of the Bulls’ basketball happenings. Firing Fred Hoiberg was foreseeable, however, doing it after one of the Bulls only wins of the seasons was head scratching to say the least. Then, after their seventh straight loss to the Jazz, the Bulls extended the contract of Hoiberg’s head coaching replacement, Jim Boylen, giving him a raise in the process. The Bulls are 5-16 under Boylen, but nevertheless, he is already worthy of a raise in the eyes of GarPax.
"You're developing a losing culture."
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 18, 2019
In addition to the media comments from Lavine, the Bulls other young guard Kris Dunn apologized to the team in a film session after the Lakers game for his lack of aggressiveness and mental focus.
The Bulls lack the veteran presence to lead them through this rough patch from a mental perspective, and their play has suffered significantly because of it. Robin Lopez is the team’s closet thing to a veteran leader, and the only reason his name has been in the media this week has been because of rumors of him wanting to have his contract bought out so that he may play for Golden State.
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 15, 2019
The Bulls’ most inspired players through the last few games have been Jabari Parker and Chandler Hutchinson. Those are the only two players throughout this rough stretch who cannot be questioned on their focus or effort on the teams’ tour of the west coast. Against the Nuggets, Parker scored 15 points in 18 minutes. In the previous game against the Lakers, Parker led the team with 18 points while only playing 17 minutes. In the month of January, Parker has been the team’s third leading scorer while being tenth on the team in playing time. What has kept Parker from playing more minutes this season has been his defense. While it is known around the league that he can be an efficient scorer, it is also well known that he is a liability on defense. However, with how the team has been playing lately, and given his production on offense, it may be time to switch some things up. What else is there to lose for the Bulls?
Chandler Hutchinson may not have stuffed the stat sheet in the previous weeks, but his hustle during games has been apparent to anyone who has watched. Hutchinson is one of the few Bulls that fights for every 50/50 ball and hustles down the floor on both offense and defense. Against the Nuggets, Hutchinson was assigned to guard MVP candidate Nikola Jokic for parts of the night. He, along with Lauri Markkanen, held the star center to 18 points, which is below his season average.
With the exception of possibly Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls best two players through this stretch have been Hutchinson and Parker. The problem for Chicago is that Hutchinson is not the type of player to put up big numbers and Parker does not receive enough playing time to actually impact the outcome of games.
So, when will this miserable losing streak end?
On the bright side, the Bulls tour of the west coast is finished. They will return to Chicago for their next three games. In addition, eight out of their next 10 games will be against Eastern Conference opponents.
The bad news still outweighs the good news. The Bulls have not looked like they could beat any NBA team as of late, and that was with Wendell Carter Jr. If Carter Jr. is able to return in eight weeks, he may be able to play in the Bulls’ final three games of the year. It is more likely that his rookie season is now over. The fate of the remainder of the season realistically lies in the hands of Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn. If they continue to play at the level they have in the past weeks, the team will struggle to win any more games.
Well, snapping the losing streak just got tougher: https://t.co/xIYhrB6nVA
— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 17, 2019
The Bulls will have a chance to play the only team with a worse record than them twice in the next five games. They will face the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Monday Jan. 21 and in Chicago on Sunday Jan. 27. However, the Cavaliers recently snapped their 12-game losing streak against the Lakers in Los Angeles.
If they cannot capitalize on the opportunity to beat Cleveland at home, the only remaining games where it would be foreseeable that the Bulls win without pulling off a serious upset would be in one of the three games they will play against the Atlanta. Two of these games are in March and are the final two games of the season. The Bulls will also have a home game against the Washington Wizards on Feb. 9.
These will be the best opportunities for the Bulls to pick up wins without hoping for an atrocious night from opposing teams. Bulls fans shouldn’t expect the miserable feeling to go away any time before the draft lottery though, as Chicago will be lucky to win even five more games this season.
With the way the team is currently performing, it would not be surprising if this losing streak continues for a while. The most likely scenario is that the Bulls lose to the Cavaliers in Cleveland, and the losing streak extends to 13 games before they finally pick up a victory against the Cavs in Chicago.