Five straight losses and 11 defeats in their last 14 games have left the Chicago Bulls out of a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in round, a position they held even as things have sputtered since the trade deadline.
Beginning with Saturday’s visit from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bulls have about a month remaining in the season to reverse their fortunes and make a postseason push.
To coach Billy Donovan, recent adversity may just be a catalyst.
“I think this is great for our team,” he said.
Donovan called the ups and downs a teaching tool that illustrated the Bulls’ commitment, and said players have bolstered their work ethic despite the harrowing results.
On Friday, the Bulls lost 126-115 to the Memphis Grizzles, their second 11-point loss to Memphis this week. Chicago allowed 69 points in the second half as they played without All-Star Zach LaVine, who is in the NBA’s safety and health protocol.
Donovan said he doesn’t expect LaVine back soon.
“Everybody’s dealing with this and we obviously are missing a really good player,” Donovan said. “It’s fortunate that Zach, outside of his ankle, has been predominantly healthy for most of the year, so that part’s been great to have him available, but now he’s not.”
Coby White paced the Bulls with 27 points, while Nikola Vucevic posted a double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds. The rest of the Chicago startling lineup produced just 18 points, as the team’s three other scorers in double figures came off the bench, led by Thaddeus Young with 17.
Cleveland has lost three of four and eight of 11 after falling 119-101 to the visiting Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.
The Cavaliers’ backcourt remains depleted, as guards Damyean Dotson and Dylan Windler have both been sidelined all month with knee issues.
Back in the lineup after missing two games with a strained groin, Collin Sexton led Cleveland with 30 points. Jarrett Allen posted a double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Darius Garland chipped in 20 points and seven assists.
Kevin Love, who also is working back from injury, scored only five points on 2-for-10 shooting as he played the second game of a back-to-back.
“For him, it’s difficult because the game gets choppy,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “You’re trying to figure out how you manage 24 minutes or so. The game, it’s hard for him because the longer he’s on the floor, the more things happen for him, the easier it is for him to catch a rhythm. That’s on me to figure out how I make that easier for him.”
Cleveland and Chicago are set to meet twice in five days beginning Saturday. The Cavaliers topped the Bulls 103-94 at the United Center March 24 in the teams’ first game of the season, as Chicago sputtered to a 28.6 percent (8-for-28) effort from 3-point range.
Garland and LaVine paced their respective teams with 22 points apiece.
The Bulls lead the all-time series 128-92, including a 75-36 mark on their home floor.
–Field Level Media