Losing crucial games against inferior competition is something the Bulls have mastered. Their prowess in conjuring up lackluster defeats has become a trend throughout coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure, and Saturday’s 107-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets is yet another example of the Bulls’ inability to take care of a poor opponent.
Though the Nets hold the league’s worst record, their play since March 1 has been considerably improved, winning 10 of 21 games. Nevertheless, with hopes of a playoff berth all to play for, the Bulls should have handled the Nets on their home floor, but were incapable of doing so.
Inconsistent effort, odd coaching decisions and poor execution allowed a 9-point lead within only minutes remaining to quickly evaporate. Not even Jimmy Butler’s 33 points on 12-of-22 shooting could save the Bulls from an untimely defeat.
It’s unknown how critical this loss will prove to be. The Bulls still control their playoff destiny and can clinch a berth on Monday with a win (and a Miami Heat loss), though their odds have shifted from 97 percent prior to the game, down to 82 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
Dissecting the game in more detail, here a several game notes:
- The Bulls continued their hot shooting ways, hitting 11 three-pointers on 24 attempts (46 percent). Despite another game with 10 or more threes and Jimmy Butler hitting all five of his attempts from deep, an efficient scoring night from the three-point line wasn’t enough to overcome turning the ball over 17 times.
- Dwyane Wade had an indifferent return in his first game back from an elbow fracture. 5-of-11 shooting and 14 points in 21 minutes is quality offensive production, but five turnovers and some poor defense negated most of the benefits. Wade looked rusty and in need of game conditioning. That can only come with time, something the Bulls don’t have much of.
- Nikola Mirotic may have had his worst game since returning to the starting unit. Averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds during his late-season renaissance, Mirotic wasn’t able to muster anything close to his previous form. Without Mirotic supporting Butler offensively, the Bulls didn’t have enough firepower to overcome the lowly Nets. This may have been an off game for Mirotic, but it highlights the Bulls’ over-reliance on too few players. If he performs poorly in the postseason, the Bulls will be in trouble.
- Michael Carter-Williams should not be playing. His offensive limitations detract from any positives he may bring on defense. The Nets were wisely leaving MCW wide-open from three, causing spacing issues for his teammates. Carter-Williams couldn’t capitalize, shooting 2-of-10 shooting from the field and posting a team-worst -22 plus-minus in 21 minutes played.
- Game 80 of the season is not the time to be tinkering with rotations and going deep into the depth chart. Playing 12 players and searching for any combination that could stop the Nets, Hoiberg tried anything and everything. Is Cristiano Felicio now back in the rotation after seeing his first minutes since returning from injury, or is it just a random decision? Will Jerian Grant go back to receiving DNP-CDs once Rajon Rondo returns? With Wade back, is Zipser, Morrow or Valentine the first wing off the bench? I’m not sure, and I don’t think Hoiberg knows, which is concerning.
- While the Bulls failed to capitalized on securing a playoff berth, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat both won their respective games, making this loss even more difficult to stomach. Indiana now sit in seventh place while the Bulls and Heat are tied with a 39-41 record. The Bulls have a temporary hold on the eighth seed due to a tie-breaker over Miami, but relinquished a chance at moving closer to the postseason. Monday’s game against the Orlando Magic is now a must-win.