CHICAGO (670 The Score) – Ahead of the Bulls’ game against the Heat on Saturday evening, Chicago coach Billy Donovan referenced the matchup as a measuring stick of sorts.
So if that was the case, what did the Bulls learn in a 107-104 loss at the United Center?
“It just shows you how grimy and gritty you got to be when you go out there and play,” Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan said.
Getting a taste of what life is like against a veteran, smart, tough-nosed foe, the Bulls were left to lament their own undisciplined play. Chicago committed 23 turnovers, settled for too many jump shots in Donovan’s mind, failed to consistently probe the zone defense it faced and also lost Miami shooters behind the 3-point line on a series of key possessions in the fourth quarter.
In other words, the Bulls’ attention to detail was poor, notably when they squandered a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of executing and then continuing to execute and put pressure on the paint,” said guard Alex Caruso, who had 22 points and six assists off the bench.
The Bulls’ loss to the Heat raised more questions about their half-court offense, which is one of Chicago’s biggest weaknesses. Entering Saturday, the Bulls were 28th in the NBA in offensive efficiency after made field goals by their opponent, according to pbpstats.com, a key indicator of how a team is doing when its foe gets a chance to get set defensively.
Against the Heat, DeRozan scored a game-high 28 points, but fellow star Zach LaVine managed just 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting. More concerning was the continued underwhelming play from center Nikola Vucevic, who had just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting while committing three turnovers in his third game back after a COVID-19 bout.
Vucevic is averaging 13.4 points while shooting 40.0% overall and 26.3% on 3-pointers. The 40.0% mark is pacing to be the worst field-goal percentage of his 11-year NBA career, and the 3-point figure would be his worst since he began shooting behind the arc at a solid volume in 2017-’18.
“They switched a lot on Vooch, and then when he went into the post, they were really bringing a lot of people,” Donovan said. “And then when he caught it, they were kind of doubling him and bringing people at him. I’ve got to find a way as a coach to try to help him a little bit more in that situation. And I do think he’s getting his footing back under him. I personally thought in the game we did not utilize him well enough.
“I thought we did it a couple times where we got it to him quickly and he could make a quick move. But when we like stared down and threw it up to him and he had to get it, gather it and read the defense, he wasn’t in a position to score. And we’ve got to find ways to help him a little bit more in those situations.”
Caruso believes the Bulls’ half-court issues can be solved with more time for a team that only has two players in its current rotation who were on the squad last season.
“We’re working through it,” he said. “I don’t think any team right now is perfect in anything they’re doing except maybe Golden State or Phoenix because they’ve lost maybe one or two games and they’re playing good. I mean, every other team at this point in the season is still trying to work out kinks. You’ve played 20-something games, it’s a quarter of the way through the season ... Right now, you’re kind just starting to play to an identity, create those habits you want to create moving forward and that will hopefully stick for the rest of the year. We have a lot of work to do. Obviously, we’ve got a long way to go. I don’t think we’re in bad shape by any means.”
For his part, DeRozan squashed the idea that the Bulls (13-8) losing three of their past four games was in any way a reason to worry.
“No, nah, nah, nah, nah,” he said. “No worry at all. We want to win them all, but it happens.
“We had a tough week. (It’s about) understanding how we can build on that and get better. Sometimes adversity even brings you closer and understanding the goal at hand. Sometimes you need that. I feel like with this group of guys, we have that next step to really understanding and move that forward.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.