The Chicago Bulls lost their fifth-straight game to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, 121-116 without three important players.
- There was no Zach LaVine, Coby White, nor Garrett Temple due to injury and the Bulls only lost by five points to the second-best team in the Western Conference. This is the first step in confidence-boosting the new squad.
- The starting lineup for tonight included Tomas Satoransky, Patrick Williams, Thaddeus Young, Lauri Markkanen, and Nikola Vucevic. The second rotation started with Denzel Valentine, Daniel Theis, Troy Brown Jr., and Ryan Arcidiacono. No sighting of Al-Farouq Aminu (for the second straight game) nor Javonte Green.
- Team Offense. The Bulls shot below average from the field as a team, making 43 of their 99 field goal attempts, which averages 43.4 percent. They shot 33 percent from three, cashing in 11 of their 33 attempts. They moved the ball well, racking up 27 team assists.
- Dominating the Paint. The Bulls really dominated the paint, scoring 56 points in the paint against the Suns’ 44 points. This aggression contributed to an above-average night in free throw attempts with 21 attempts from the charity stripe. The Bulls made 19 of those attempts for an impressive 90.5 percent. Markkanen deserves a shoutout for playing aggressively and finishing through contact.
- Williams stepped up to play shooting guard for LaVine tonight while Donovan made the frontcourt bigger with Vucevic, Markkanen, and Young. Williams scored 16 points on 7/11 shooting from the field, adding three rebounds and one assist to his repertoire. He also put a monster block on Deandre Ayton. His night ultimately proved he is a positionless player that can help on both ends of the floor at any position.
- Valentine attributed greatly to keeping the Bulls in the game, as they trailed the Suns for most of it. He scored 19 points off the bench, making 8/18 shots from the field and 3/9 from behind the arc. Valentine added six rebounds and four assists to his box score tonight too. The confidence he took with his shot was encouraging and a reason why he closed the game with the starting lineup. He could see a future with the Bulls with games like these.
- Offensive rebounds. A large reason the Bulls stayed in contention was their work on the offensive glass. The Bulls grabbed 18 offensive rebounds against the Suns. The starting lineup accumulated for 14 of them. Young led the way with six on the night, giving the Bulls excess opportunities and creating the gap in shot attempts from the Bulls’ 99 to the Suns’ 81 attempts.
- Team Defense. The defense looked miserable again, allowing the Suns to shoot open shots and apply hardly any pressure on them. The Suns were shooting > 60 percent from the field for plenty of the night but ended the game at 56.8 percent shooting. They cashed in 44 percent of their three-point attempts. A positive for the Bulls was the fact that the Suns committed 10 turnovers, the same amount as the Bulls.
- The Suns’ pick-and-roll offense between either Chris Paul and Dario Saric or Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton looked too easy. The drop coverage in pick-and-roll situations for the Bulls has to end! They do not have the athletic bigs to do that and the only Bulls’ big man who has shown flashes of success in this method has been Theis.
- Transition defense was a huge problem for the Bulls. Booker constantly wore the Bulls down by running the floor and playing unpredictably on fast breaks. The Suns recorded 14 fast-break points, which doesn’t seem like a lot but they kept the Bulls in check while getting back on defense.
- Booker was too much for the Bulls to contain. He scored a season-high 45 points on the night, shooting a spectacular 17/24 from the field. He added four rebounds and four assists. Booker was able to get nearly any matchup he wanted in his offense which the Bulls need to make adjustments on going forward.
- Daniel Theis is becoming a bigger piece of the defensive pie already and he needs to see more tick. He saw just 20 minutes of action tonight, in contrast to Young (28 minutes), Markkanen (34 minutes), and Vucevic (34 minutes). Ideally in the future, Theis gets paired up with Markkanen on the bench to make for a healthy balance of offensive and defensive power in the frontcourt.
- The Bulls’ recurring theme of fouling three-point shooters continues. They committed two fouls on three-point shooters tonight, Theis being the first of the two to do so. Contesting is important but over-contesting and fouling are detrimental.
- The Bulls should bring a zone defense into the mix of their defensive scheme. The man-to-man might need a break because the Bulls are a bigger lineup now with weaker defensive players. Donovan has flashed his 2-3 zone a few times this season, and maybe it’s time to try it again. After seeing Paul drop 14 assists helping the Phoenix Suns slice up the Bulls’ interior defense, it could be time for a change.
- This loss should be a confidence booster for the Bulls. They just competed with the second-best team in the Western Conference without their best player. They also didn’t play extremely great offense (shooting just 44 percent from the field) and their defense was unwatchable. They have adjustments to make but when they fix their defensive game and continue to hit shots they will succeed.
BONUS: If LaVine has to sit out now to get healthy, he should do so. Forcing himself to play through an ankle injury could hurt his chances of playing further than the regular season. Let him rest now so the Bulls can get him back fully healthy.
The Bulls trek forward with the hope they will have the few players returning from injury to dig them out of this hole. The Bulls travel to Utah to play the Jazz on Friday at 8 p.m.