It was a game that set up well for the Bulls. They had almost the entire squad back and were facing a 76ers team that was missing All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. It didn’t turn out well, however.
There was a lot for the Bulls to reflect on by the time Thursday night came to an end.
First, it was the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus’ shutdown of the NBA and, basically, the entire sports world.
“There was no real testing going on,’’ Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “There was nothing with masks or anything like that. So when [Jazz center Rudy] Gobert tested positive, the guys wanted to play. The game was postponed or canceled, and I just said to the guys, ‘Listen, we’ll get up and down tomorrow in practice. We’ll scrimmage. We’ll use that time.’ I never saw our guys again until July 8.’’
Second, there was a reminder of Zach LaVine’s arrival on the NBA’s elite stage as he was added to Team USA’s player pool for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I just think the All-Star Game, what you’re talking about with the Olympics, the fact that [LaVine is] being recognized for the work he’s put in and what he’s done, it’s a great testament to him and how he’s grown and continued to get better as a player,’’ Donovan said.
But here’s what stood out the most for Donovan: the all-too familiar reminder of the his team’s lackadaisical start to the season.
Hosting the 76ers, who were missing All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Bulls (16-19) pulled out all the bad habits in their 127-105 loss. From fouling too much to too many turnovers to falling asleep on the defensive end to being way too soft in the paint and having chemistry issues offensively, it was across-the-board embarrassing.
And embarrassing right from the tip.
After being outscored by seven in the first quarter, the Bulls crawled into the halftime locker room already committing 10 turnovers that led to 13 points by the 76ers. Oh, it got worse.
By the end, it was 19 turnovers, but the Bulls also allowed a season-worst 78 points in the paint. Reserve big man Dwight Howard of the 76ers had 18 points and 12 rebounds in only 24 minutes.
“We didn’t deserve to win the game, and we didn’t deserve to be in the game,’’ Donovan said. “I thought we had made some really positive strides [going into the break], but we took some major steps backward. I felt like our defense was getting better from where it was at the start of the season and had progressed, but I didn’t think our guards did a very good job of getting into the ball, and I didn’t think our bigs protected the rim very well.
“We were all out of sorts on both ends of the floor.’’
LaVine wasn’t going to argue with that point.
“We just couldn’t stop anybody,’’ LaVine said. “It seemed like we just weren’t ready to play these guys. It just seemed like we walked into the game.’’
The 76ers sprinted into it.
The one positive was that Lauri Markkanen returned after missing the previous 13 games with a sprained right shoulder. He scored 23 points and went 8-for-11 from the field, including 7-for-7 from three-point range.
That’s not too shabby for a guy who was struggling to find practice time the last week.
But did the return of Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. mess with the rhythm and roles that had been established in their absence?
“We don’t have a lot of time to try to mess around with that,’’ LaVine said. “We’ve got to figure it out. We’re all pros and will figure out how to make it work.’’