Bulls dramatically crumble late versus Pacers

A quarter of the Bulls’ schedule has been played. Ample opportunities to squander leads and lose games by plenty wait ahead, which makes close losses like this awfully hard to stomach.

After leading for 47 minutes, the Bulls squandered a 92-79 advantage deep in the fourth quarter, losing 98-96 to the Indiana Pacers.

Being bad and collecting the top pick in the draft is the primary goal for the season. We all know this, so what if the team drops a game in the final moments? For a tanking team, losing is winning, after all.

That may be true. The Bulls – or more succinctly, their management team — are actively trying to lose games. In that regard, this was a perfect loss. Tankathon standings may show the Bulls executing a flawless tank, but lost in all the losing is the opportunity cost of player development.

The result will ultimately show a Bulls loss, but the process is far more important. In the final five minutes, countless possessions were wasted on forced shots and poor turnovers, resulting in an 19-4 Pacers run that swung the game.

Late game execution was always going to be an issue for a team lacking in an established scorer, ball handler and coach. Logically, losses like this should be expected. And in hindsight, it makes complete sense how the league’s worst offense can buckle in pressure moments. At some point, though, we have to wonder how crushing losses can impact player development.

A mental toll after a momentous loss like this could be problematic. Players were dejected walking off the floor. Will that carry into the next game? Will Kris Dunn be focusing on his overall game, which was overly promising, or will the two turnovers in the fourth quarter lead to a timid approach moving forward? Can Denzel Valentine shake off the disappointment of fumbling the ball for a turnover which led to a Victor Oladipo go-ahead 3-pointer?

These questions may be overly dramatic, born out of an emotional loss, but they still feel relevant.

The Bulls find themselves stuck in a significant rough patch. Losers of 15 of their last 16 games, the team is now in the midst of a 10 game losing streak. Some of those losses were admirable and competitive, but most weren’t. A well-fought win against a division rival to end a losing streak would have been a just reward for the team’s young players.

The Bulls’ brass have to ensure that the franchise doesn’t cross the line between strategically rebuilding and being a constant cellar dweller with little hope.

Now that I have all of the negative thoughts out of my system, it’s important to remember this game wasn’t all doom and gloom. Let’s focus on some of the positives.

  • Kris Dunn continues to show he can accumulate basic box score numbers. Whilst this attribute alone doesn’t necessarily make him a great player, it does show he has the physical tools required to impact the game in multiple ways. 18 points, six rebounds and six assists are good numbers for a player who was trending towards being bust.
  • Denzel Valentine continues to etch out a role, playing very well as a secondary creator. Valentine used his passing skills to setup multiple made baskets, and continued to shoot extremely well from the 3-point line, making four of his seven attempts. The sophomore wing is slowly starting to exceed my (lowly) expectations for him. If he can find a way to efficiently score inside the 3-point line (he 1-for-6 on 2-pointers), it will change his career trajectory entirely.
  • You can’t fully appreciate David Nwaba’s silent impact on this team until he’s removed from the rotation. An ankle injury which forced him out for nine games allowed us to know his true worth. And for a team with limited athleticism and defense on the perimeter, Nwaba has been a welcome return. 11 points on six shots (83.3 percent) in 22 minutes from the bench were hugely valuable.
  • Robin Lopez may be the most underrated player on the roster. The only time his name is mentioned is when he’s beating up opposing mascots or being featured in blog posts outlining possible trade destinations. Though his numbers will never leap off the box score (16 points, five rebounds), he was the only starter a positive plus/minus, and continued to show his value as a rim protector and front court partner to Markkanen
  • Sure, the Bulls’ offense was horrible in the fourth quarter. Notably, though, they did shoot 52.3 percent from the field and only committed 10 turnovers through three quarters.
  • Justin Holiday only had seven field goal attempts for the entire game. That’s a better number for him (even if he only made two).
  • Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic were cordial enough to exchange in fist bump festivities. Progress?
  • The Bulls return to action on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets, the team they defeated for their lone win in the last 16 games. They then face the Knicks on Saturday, who will be without Tim Hardaway Jr. (and possibly Kristaps Porzingis). Both games represent an opportunity snap their current losing woes. A win against the Knicks is always good value, no matter the context. Here’s to hoping the players can get one.

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