Chicago Bulls drop tough one to Memphis, fall to 2nd in East

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls entered action Saturday night on top of the Eastern Conference and riding a 6 game winning streak. DeMar DeRozan had two streaks going, one of consecutive 30 point games, and another of 35+ point games on greater than 50% shooting. Unfortunately, against Memphis, historically DeMar’s toughest opponent, the latter streak came to an end at 8 games – a new NBA record.

DeMar started cold, as did most of the Bulls, going 0-7 from the floor before finishing 10 of 29 for the game with 31 points. Much like Toronto, the Grizzlies are a team built on their length and physical presence inside. They lead the league in offensive rebounding and from the jump, it was clear their ability to get second-chance points would be a huge factor in this game. Steven Adams had a double-double by the halfway point of the second quarter.

For much of the game, Zach LaVine was the one who kept the Bulls in striking distance with his play while the team around him struggled to find their groove. Then in the fourth quarter, they found something defensively that was able to slow down Ja Morant, who had been going absolutely crazy until that point – ultimately ending with a new career-high of 46 points.

Recently, much of the talk has been about DeMar DeRozan doing Jordan-esque things in the house that Jordan built, but on Saturday night, it was Ja who transported Bulls fans back to 2010 with his play so reminiscent of Derrick Rose’s early MVP years.

The Bulls came back in this game in the fourth quarter, erasing at one point a 17 point lead, and cutting it down to one. Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Coby White all got going and nearly pulled off a stunner, but in the end, it was Memphis’ physical interior defense that sealed the deal.

This loss, coupled with the Miami Heat’s victory over the Spurs, caused the Bulls to drop to second in the eastern conference as they now trail Miami by one game. Their next four games will be against Miami, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia – a tough stretch that the Bulls need to maneuver if they want to hold their position in the conference standings or elevate back into the number 1 seed. Philadelphia and Milwaukee trail the Bulls by 3 games and 4 games, respectively so a cold stretch this upcoming week could see the Bulls slide as far as the fourth or fifth seed.

However, there were positive takeaways from this game. Zach looked better, Tristan Thompson made his presence felt and has showcased his value to the team, but most importantly, we are getting to see the difference health makes for this Bulls roster (Click here for Bulls injury updates).

The Chicago Bulls must get fully healthy in order to take down the top teams.

The last time the Bulls played Memphis, a little over a month ago, their starting lineup was Ayo Dosunmu – Coby White – DeMar DeRozan – Alfonso McKinnie – Nikola Vucevic. They had Malcolm Hill, Troy Brown Jr, Tony Bradley, Marko Simonovic, and Matt Thomas coming off the bench. In a game that was a blowout, the reserves actually came back and made the final score respectable, a 13 point loss.

However, in their second matchup, the Bulls were much healthier, and the Grizzlies needed a superhuman effort from Ja to escape with a victory – and the Chicago Bulls are still not healthy. This time, DeMar had more support, and the Bulls could keep it close, but there is still more room to improve.

Take the rotation between Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu, for example. Against Atlanta, Ayo had it going and as a result, he played over 30 minutes compared to Coby’s 20. However, against Memphis, Ayo had a rough game and it was Coby who got the lion’s share of the minutes. The problem? It still puts a ton of pressure on one of them when the other is having an off night because the Bulls still have no guard depth.

When Caruso and Lonzo come back, Billy Donovan will have the luxury of being able to mitigate the ebbs and flows of Ayo and Coby’s play because their pressure to provide will be lessened by the reintegration of Lonzo and Caruso back into the rotation. That makes a huge difference in games like this one against Memphis where Ayo played 22 minutes but couldn’t get anything going.

The Chicago Bulls still have a lot of room to grow and they still need to learn how to consistently beat good teams, which they’ve struggled doing all year. Much of that has to do with health, as we saw in their two losses to Memphis, but as they slowly get their pieces back, we’re going to see that this team stacks up well against any team in the NBA and has as good a chance as any to represent the East come June.

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