CHICAGO — After entering the All-Star break tied for first in the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls’ prolonged second-half struggles saw them drop in the standings as they endure their worst stretch of the season before the playoffs.
Chicago locked itself into the No. 6 seed in the East on Friday night, following a 133-117 loss to the Charlotte Hornets in which the Bulls trailed by as much as 37 points at the United Center. It was the fourth straight loss for the Bulls, all at home, all by double digits and all against playoff teams in the East.
The home crowd booed the Bulls as they entered the locker room down 28 points in Chicago’s final regular-season home game on Friday.
“They should,” Bulls star Zach LaVine said after the game. “It’s embarrassing. We’re a very good basketball team and we don’t play like that. They know it. We know it. It’s understandable. We understand that they support us, but we have to play better. .”
When asked to describe the vibe in the locker room, LaVine replied, “Everybody’s upset, man. We’re getting our ass kicked.”
“They just jumped on us,” LaVine said. “We sing the same story, and I always try to be very uplifting and try to see the bright side of things, but I’m tired of talking. We say a lot of words and we say the right thing, but we have to understand that. We don’t do that, plain and simple.
Since the All-Star break, the Bulls are 7-15. During this period, they rank 27th in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency, compared to 4th and 20th respectively before the break. The Bulls are the only team in the Eastern Conference playoff field with a negative point differential.
“It’s just one of those tests that we wish we’d had earlier in the season,” Bulls star DeMar DeRozan said after the game. “We had so much success so fast, so fast that I knew at some point that we were going to have to deal with this type of adversity. You never want it down the line.
“It’s kind of like, in high school, you get all A’s in freshman, sophomore. Then in freshman and sophomore, you get AP and that— is extremely difficult. But now you just have to strap in and do the extra work. Study. You have to level up 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 didn’t explain the covers with enough clarity earlier in the day during filming, which caused him forced to burn a timeout about 90 seconds into the match. Charlotte scored its first 11 field goals on Friday, the longest streak of any team to start a game this season, according to Elias.
But there were plenty of complaints.
“They attacked us,” DeRozan said. “We couldn’t keep them. They had their way.”
The Bulls were without goaltender Alex Caruso (fullback) on Friday, and Donovan said the team will discuss whether he will play in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Minnesota. LaVine also wasn’t sure if he’d play against the Timberwolves as he continues to deal with a knee injury that hampered him for the entire second half.
However, regardless of Sunday’s result, the Bulls are locked into the No. 6 seed and could face Milwaukee, Boston or Philadelphia. Chicago is a combined 1-10 against those three teams this season, with its lone win coming against the Celtics on Nov. 1.
“We just have to do a better job because it’s right around the corner,” LaVine said of the playoffs. “We can’t let this happen. It’s embarrassing.”