The Chicago Bulls returned to winning ways with a 98-94 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday that came on the back of two straight losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans but have since dropped another game to the New York Knicks.
The Bulls got off to a great start to the season, proving their acquisition of DeMar DeRozan was an excellent decision. They led the Eastern Conference at one point but are now clinging to the fifth position, which is now in even greater danger following Monday night’s loss.
It’s been a tough spell for Chicago since the All-Star break as they’ve lost six of their last 10 games.
There are several reasons for the regression, with injuries the main one. Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams have only just returned while Lonzo Ball has been out since late January following an operation on his knee.
Despite all of the setbacks, the Bulls appear set for the playoffs, which would be a first in five years. They’re currently 1/41 to qualify for postseason play – the bookmakers are also offering odds of 16/1 on them crashing out of contention. On that note, sports gamblers in Illinois can now sign up with BetMGM for some of the best deals available.
Meanwhile, head coach Billy Donovan, who is in his first year in charge of the team, is now facing the challenge of getting the team to the place it was when it was firing on all cylinders.
Apart from Ball being out, the Bulls slide is also owed to the players who are available not hitting their shots. That is how Donovan sees it.
“The shots that we’re getting in the halfcourt prior to the All-Star break compared to now really is not much different,” he said, via Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago. “Like, our shot profile is relatively the same. It’s just that we haven’t made them.”
Schaeffer, though, has noted that it isn’t so simple. Chicago’s field goal percentage has gone down from the 48.3 percent they were shooting before All-Star Weekend to 47.3 percent. The midrange percentage has also slipped, from 45.1 percent to 40.9 percent.
The field goal percentage isn’t significant enough to affect the team’s fortunes as much as has been the case. Their defense has to be blamed too; they also haven’t been creating as many shooting opportunities as they were earlier in the season.
“The Bulls’ potential assists average has dropped from 46 (17th) to 39.5 (dead last) in the last 15 games,” the journo wrote. “Potential assists is one of Donovan’s preferred statistical measures of offensive health, as it measures passes that directly lead to shot opportunities, regardless of whether said shot converts.”
Donovan would like to see more ball movement as it would allow his players to find more opportunities to put the ball in the hoop.
“We gotta do it through some ball movement and player movement,” he added. “The more we can do that, the more it gives us an opportunity to put some pressure at the basket.
The Bulls only have seven regular-season games to sort their issues out on the back of Monday’s fixture.
Caruso, who just returned to the lineup, as mentioned above, has said he’s focused on the present and isn’t thinking of first-round playoff matchups.
“Where we’re at right now, I don’t think you can worry about matchups,” Caruso said, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “If we worry about us, everything will take care of itself. … If we show up and play like we’re supposed to play, we’ll win a lot of games going into the playoffs and be where we need to be. There’s really not many words I can say. Just go out and do it.”
This is exactly how Caruso should be thinking right now. Playoff basketball isn’t quite guaranteed for the Bulls yet and focusing on what might happen in the postseason could make it a lot harder to get there. There aren’t many games left, yet still enough to see them fail to keep a grasp on the berth.
At the time of writing, the Bulls only had a four-and-a-half game lead over the ninth-placed Brooklyn Nets. A sustained period of poor play could certainly see them have to go the route of the play-in tournament, which would make playoff basketball even less of a guarantee.
Donovan and the Bulls need to guarantee passage to the playoffs to even begin to think about opponents therein but big man Nikola Vucevic has said he believes they could run with anybody.
“Some matchups are better than others, but I think we have the talent to play with everybody,” center Nikola Vucevic said, per Cowley.