CHICAGO – After entering the All-Star tie break for first place in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls’ drawn-out second-half struggles saw them drop the standings as they endured their worst spell of the season heading into the playoffs.
Chicago locked themselves in the No. 6 East seed Friday night, after a 133-117 loss to the Charlotte Hornets as the Bulls slipped by as much as 37 points at United Center. This was the Bulls’ fourth consecutive loss, all at home, all by double digits and all against the playoff teams in the East.
Home fans booed the Bulls when they entered the locker room 28 points late during the regular season final game at home in Chicago on Friday.
“They should,” Bulls star Zach Lavigne said after the game. “It’s embarrassing. We’re a really good basketball team, and we don’t play that way. They know it. We know it. It’s understandable. We understand that they support us, but we have to play better.”
When Lavigne was asked to describe the mood in the locker room, he replied, “Everyone’s upset, man. We’re getting kicked.”
“They jumped on us,” Lavigne said. “We sing the same story, and I always try to be very flashy and try to see the bright side, but I’m tired of talking. We say a lot of words and say the right thing, but we have to understand it outside. We don’t do that, plain and simple.”
Since the All-Star break, the Bulls 7-15. During this period, they took 27th place in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency, compared to 24th, respectively, before the break. The Bulls are the only team in the East Conference field with a negative points difference.
“It’s just one of those tests we wish we could do earlier in the season,” Bulls star DeMar DeRozan said after the game. “We hit it so big and so fast that I knew at some point that we were going to have to deal with that kind of adversity. You never want it at the end of the road.
“It’s a bit like, going to high school, getting all your A’s as a freshman, or a sophomore. And then, as a junior and senior, you get AP classes and that’s really hard. But now you have to buckle up and put on Overtime is kind of in it. Studying. You have to take it to the next level if you really want to — if you want to go to Yale.”
Bulls coach Billy Donovan took his share of the blame for Friday’s loss, saying he had not explained the coverage clearly enough earlier that day on the shootout, forcing him to burn a timeout of about 90 seconds into the game. Charlotte scored her first 11 field goals on Friday, the longest streak any team has scored to start a game this season, according to Elias.
But there was plenty of blame to go around.
“They attacked us,” DeRozan said. “We couldn’t guard them. They had their way.”
The Bulls fought without guard Alex Caruso (return) on Friday, and Donovan said the team would discuss whether to play in Sunday’s regular season final in Minnesota. LaVine also wasn’t sure if he’d play against the Timberwolves as he continues to contend with a knee injury that crippled him throughout the entire second half.
However, regardless of Sunday’s result, the Bulls are locked in the No. 6 seed and could face Milwaukee, Boston or Philadelphia. Chicago combined 1-10 against those three teams this season, with their only win over the Celtics on November 1.
“We just have to do a better job because it’s just around the corner,” Lavigne said of qualifying. “We can’t let that happen. It’s embarrassing.”