WASHINGTON D.C – As the NBA descends on Chicago for their annual All-Star Game, the team that will play the host is in the midst of another season of discontent.
As they reach the figurative first half of their season with the week off for the midseason classic, the Bulls are nowhere near where they’d hoped to be when the “playoffs” proclamation was made by John Paxson before the start of training camp.
Inconsistent play has plagued them, questionable coaching decisions have caused issues, while injuries have decimated them as of late, and despite some great efforts from Zach LaVine that garnered some All-Star consideration, the team isn’t looking like they’d hoped in the third year of the rebuild.
In fact, they’re not really even close at this point, thanks to forces mostly in and some out of their control.
Tuesday’s 55th game of the season was indicative of their season, with the team falling behind by a big margin then being unable to make it up against a Wizards team that came into the contest with less wins than they did. Despite another incredible effort from Lavine, 41 points along with eight three-pointers, the Bulls lost for the 36th time this season 126-114 in Washington, as they have just 19 wins to show for their efforts as the limp into the All-Star Break.
A look at the results themselves has shown just how much of a struggle the first full year under Jim Boylen has been.
It’s the sixth consecutive loss for the group that right now is without starters Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls weren’t doing that well before the latter three went out of the lineup (Porter has been out since November) and things have only gotten worse since, with the team sporting a 6-15 record in the calendar year.
Momentum has been difficult for Boylen’s group to get all season long, as they’ve yet to win three games in a row and have won back-to-back contests just three times. Their win over the Clippers at home on December 14th remains there only one against a team with a winning record when they’ve faced them. Only the erratic Eastern Conference has kept the Bulls in somewhat of the playoff conversation, as their loss on Tuesday night leaves them 4 1/2 games in back of Orlando for the 8th spot with 27 games to play.
Only LaVine, who was averaging 25 points per game before Tuesday’s 41 point effort, has enjoyed a season liked the Bulls would have hoped for in 2019-2020. Rookie Coby White has enjoyed some positive moments during his rookie season, averaging 11 points in 28.6 minutes a game that has some excited about his future, while Carter had 11.7 points and just under 10 rebounds a game before his ankle injury in January.
But regression and injury have been more the story, most disappointingly with Markkanen, who has dealt with a little of both all season.
Dealing with an oblique injury for part of the year and now a stress reaction in his hip that will keep him out 4-to-6 weeks, Markkanen averaged just 15 points and 6.5 rebounds a contest, failing to reach the scoring potential that was hoped of him alongside LaVine this season. Porter, who many hoped would provide his own scoring punch, has been limited to just nine games and none since November 6th.
There are also odd moments that have drawn the ire of the fan base. Daniel Gafford was healthy Tuesday but mysteriously didn’t play, and once again a time out was taken late by Boylen when the game was reasonably out of reach.
All of these elements have the Bulls descending towards mediocrity in a season where they’d hoped to return to some relevance, doing so as the best in the NBA make their way to town this week.