In what was supposed to be a momentous occasion where the Chicago Bulls would unveil a new-look court and their city edition jerseys for the 2023-24 season, fans instead left the United Center disappointed. That’s because no number of fresh coats of paint or terribly designed kits could disguise the fact that this Bulls team is clearly not as good as advertised.
Up against an underwhelming and injured Brooklyn Nets squad, the Bulls still couldn’t take advantage on their own home turf and dropped their fourth game on the year 107-109/ As if losing and starting the year off with a 2-4 record wasn’t bad enough, this loss stings even more knowing it counted for the group stages of the NBA’s first-ever In-Season Tournament.
Although the Bulls entered the 4th quarter with the lead, their inability to mesh as a team and exploit the weaknesses of their opponents proved to be their downfall. Chicago’s ‘Big 3’ combined for just 11 points in the final 10 minutes of action, each committing crucial errors on both ends of the court. This all culminated in the final 5 seconds, where Zach LaVine rebounded his own missed free throw and had the chance to tie the game by passing to an open Alex Caruso and instead decided to just… chuck it?
The Bulls start the NBA’s first-ever In-Season Tournament off on the wrong foot with an avoidable loss to the Nets.
Despite an otherwise strong performance, LaVine repeatedly blew defensive assignments in clutch moments by gambling on steals rather than staying in front of Mikal Bridges down the baseline. DeMar DeRozan was particularly horrendous, as he was the only Bulls starter to post a negative plus/minus with his -16 on the night. Nikola Vucevic was equally embarrassing, as he mustered just 13 points on 13 shots, despite Brooklyn’s lone true center — Day’Ron Sharpe —only registering 15 minutes of playtime.
This lack of cohesion may prove to be this team’s downfall if they don’t get things together fast. Here’s what LaVine had to say when asked about the Bulls’ inability to live up to their reputation as a roster built to win now:
"“You know, we’re on our third year now, and I’ve been saying since training camp: It’s time to put pen to paper. If it don’t work, we understand the business of basketball. We have three All-Star players. We gotta make this work from top to bottom. It’s not just the players. We gotta make this click.”"
This means the Bulls will fall to 0-1 in East Group C of the In-Season Tournament and will almost certainly need to win out if they want any chance of advancing to the quarter-finals. Their upcoming games against the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are manageable, but beating the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics will be a tough hurdle for this team to clear. Chicago did split the season series with Boston 2-2 last year, however, so there may be light at the end of the tunnel just yet.
The Bulls’ next game takes place tonight against the reigning champion Denver Nuggets, followed by a three-game home stretch that includes contests against the Jazz, Suns, and Pistons. Chicago’s next In-Season Tournament game will be on November 17, at home against the Magic.