Making sense of the Chicago Bulls’ loss to the Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers were the only team in the NBA that had yet to cross the 10-win threshold. That is, until Sunday afternoon. That’s when the Chicago Bulls conceded a 104-101 loss to the Cavs, six days after defeating them by 16 points.

The loss leaves Chicago empty-handed on their three-game homestand. There was reason to believe that they could win at least one of the games, especially Sunday’s matchup. Instead, despite scoring 101 points each time, they drop to 11-39 on the season. It’s their worst 50-game start since 2000-01.

In Cleveland’s defense, they entered Sunday with a slightly different rotation than the week before. Larry Nance Jr. returned from injury after missing last Monday’s game. Also, two-way signee Deng Adel picked up more productive minutes. He played only five minutes in last Monday’s game. He essentially took fellow two-wayer Jaron Blossomgame’s place while he is on assignment in the minors.

Their presence, along with improved performances from Rodney Hood and Matthew Dellevadova, made the Cavs a more formidable opponent.

Additionally, the Cavaliers simply hit more 3-pointers in this game while the Bulls didn’t. Cleveland went 13-of-34 from beyond the arc on Jan. 27 after going 6-of-27 on Jan. 21. In turn, the Bulls went 9-of-26 on Sunday after going 15-of-30 on MLK Day.

Chicago’s 3-point shooting on Sunday was buoyed by Wayne Selden’s 3-of-4 and Lauri Markkanen’s 4-of-7 output. However, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Jabari Parker combined to go 0-of-9 from distance. This same trio went 6-of-10 on the 21st. LaVine’s 0-of-4 afternoon, specifically, ended with a crucial miss at the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime.

Despite the loss, LaVine finished the night with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Lauri Markkanen led the way with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Both players missed Saturday’s practice and were probable for the game. In the end, their statlines helped to keep the game competitive.

However, the team’s defensive effort negated their offensive production. The Bulls have recently developed a habit of gambling in the passing lanes for breakaway steal opportunities. It has worked in some cases, it normally ends up putting undue pressure on the rest of the defense, pulling them out of rotation and opening up easy scoring opportunities for the opponent.

In the Cavs game specifically, Cleveland’s constant ball movement and slashing also gave the Bulls fits. There were multiple instances where all five of Chicago’s players would be lured into the paint, leaving Clevelanders wide open on the perimeter.

The Bulls also reverted to some of their bad habits offensively. After recently picking up their pace, Chicago only produced 11 fastbreak points. That’s their fewest since the four fastbreak points they scored in their blowout loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Secondly, their 70.5/29.5 split between 2- and 3-point attempts was the most lopsided since their loss to the Utah Jazz. Lastly, 13.9 percent of their made shots in each of the last two games were mid-range baskets. These percentages were the highest since their Dec. 23 win over Cleveland.

Despite these issues, Chicago were competitive in their last two games after being blown out by the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately, they stumbled in the clutch in both instances. Their Friday matchup against the Clippers saw them unable to stave LA’s comeback attempt. Lou Williamsfour-point play with 1:44 remaining in regulation proved to be the back-breaker.

In the Cavs game, the Bulls fumbled their final two possessions. Out of a timeout with 17 seconds remaining, Dunn attacked the basket in hopes of scoring or drawing a foul. That’s normally a sensible idea. However, all of his teammates were on the perimeter when he did so. That left none of his teammates able to rebound the miss. LaVine’s missed 3-point attempt followed on their next offensive possession.

The Cavaliers loss is another mark on what has been a trying season for the Chicago Bulls. It kept them from sweeping the season series, which would have been a small highlight. They also fell to 5-20 at home, second-worst record in the league. The positives have been hard to come by lately, but the grind continues, and All-Star Break is only eight games away.

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