Limping into the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets home arena on Wednesday night, I don’t think many were holding out much hope for the Chicago Bulls to steal a win on the road — not even their own fans. Lo and behold, in typical Bulls fashion this season, this team just continues finding ways to lose to terrible teams and beat the teams they have no business competing with.
The Bulls would emerge with a dominant 117-96 win under their belt, looking the part (if for but just a single night) of true championship contenders. The energy in the arena last night was palpable, and almost makes me regret some of the things I have to say later on in this article.
Zach LaVine once again starred, scoring a game-high 29 points with another lights-out shooting performance, knocking down 12-of-18 from the field and 3-of-5 from long range. Patrick Williams also contributed one of his best performances of the season, chipping in 18 points off the bench while only missing one of his nine shot attempts. It was a great defensive team effort all around, as Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray were held to an uncharacteristically low 29 combined points while only converting 11-of-31 field goal attempts.
Chicago dominated the boards for the first time in what feels like a lifetime, simultaneously destroying Denver down low with 66 points in the paint to their 38. This is quite the accomplishment for a struggling Bulls squad against the NBA’s best home team in Denver, who entered the game with an exceptional 30-4 record at the Ball Arena prior to last night’s meeting.
All of this just begs the question, why can’t the Chicago Bulls just play like this all the time? And no matter how hard I try to live in the moment, I can’t find a rational explanation for this phenomenon. In what should have been a statement victory for the Bulls, I’m left feeling more frustrated than celebratory in this game’s aftermath.
Despite an impressive win on the road against the Denver Nuggets, the Chicago Bulls keep giving fans reasons to be frustrated.
As good as the dopamine hit from this win feels, I urge all Bulls fans to take it for what it is — nothing more than a fleeting moment of success. This game isn’t indicative of any bigger-picture trends with this team, it doesn’t mean they’re going to go on a winning streak, and it certainly doesn’t mean the good feelings will last forever.
We’ve seen this far too many times from this team over the course of this season. Every statement win is followed by a horribly embarrassing loss. Every solid stretch of games has been followed by a complete collapse and disappointing losing streak.
With this win, the Bulls have now moved within one game of the last play-in qualification spot, which would be great news, if I still held out any hope for this team to perform well in a postseason environment. Even if I do think the Bulls can catch up and qualify for the play-ins (I don’t), and even if they do make a run to win the tournament (they won’t), a repeat of last year’s first-round playoff beatdown at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks just does not feel like the big reward Chicago’s front office wants us to believe it is.
If this win doesn’t realistically benefit the Bulls’ postseason aspirations, then all it does is serve to hurt their odds in the upcoming draft lottery. Considering the incredible talent at the top of this year’s class, these pointless wins sting that much more.
Chicago continues to shoot itself in the foot by winning these games in a season that has already proven to be a lost cause. By not taking action in any discernible direction over the NBA’s last three transaction cycles, Arturas Karnisovas has effectively doomed this team to mediocrity.
Make no mistake, tanking is not fun. As they say, winning cures all, so I understand the objective in mind here. But the simple fact is that this team is not good enough to contend. Not good enough even to consistently win. And certainly not good enough to give fans any reason to watch or provide hope that they’ll make any noise in the playoffs. With each win this franchise gobbles up at the last moment, our hopes and dreams of adding Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, or anyone that could actually enact meaningful change for this team slowly wither and die.
I no longer believe that this team has what it takes to make a postseason run. I also have no faith in the front office to put this team in the best position possible to succeed in the long run. So no matter how unlikely last night’s win in Denver was, I can’t fault any fan for joining me in feelings of frustration, rather than celebration.