It has two games to reconnect.
Zach LaVine wasn’t sure how or in which of the final two regular-season games it could happen, but the Bulls guard knows there is very little choice.
“It’s hard to play when we’re disconnected like this and the result shows,” the All-Star said after the latest embarrassing loss on Wednesday. “Offensively and defensively, we’re disconnected right now. We’re trying to figure out how to get back in rhythm because we’re not looking like the same team we were earlier. That’s upsetting. We obviously have shown it, that fight, that hunger, but we look like a totally different team right now, so we’ve got to hurry up and get back to what we were doing and not hope and wish.
“I’m optimistic we can because if I’m not what are we doing this for?”
It’s a fair question.
The way this roster has played against the NBA’s elite lately, what are they doing this for?
Coach Billy Donovan had his take on it. Or at least what he hopes will come out of it. And the fact was it might not be something this group can display until next season or maybe longer.
Iron sharpens iron, just not overnight.
“There’s a fight that you have to have this time of year,” Donovan said. “Because you’re fighting for margins. When we have these huge losses, Milwaukee and Boston understand the margins. And they’re fighting like crazy for them. And we’ve gotten dominated on the margins. That’s why we’ve lost by 20.”
And not just to those two teams.
Miami, Phoenix, Memphis, Philadelphia … go right down the list of elite teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences, and there’s a concerning pattern.
Not a pattern that’s just a few weeks old, either. It’s been going on most of the season. Of the team’s currently considered contenders to at least play for a conference title, the last one the Bulls beat came on Nov. 10, when they beat Dallas.
That’s why the Bulls currently sit with a combined 3-22 record against teams sitting at a .600 winning percentage or better as of Thursday morning.
To Donovan’s credit, he’s fired multiple warning shots throughout the year that trouble was coming. He did so back in January, when the Bulls were riding out a nine-game winning streak, and then he did again just out of the All-Star Break.
The coach saw a team that was losing its defensive edge, while relying on hot shooting against average to subpar competition.
Then sprinkle in the injuries to Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine, and even with Caruso and LaVine back, they both look less than 100% from game-to-game.
“We’re not as bad as we’ve played … we’re not,” Donovan said. “But you know what? We probably weren’t as good when we went on a nine-game winning streak. Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle.”
A middle ground that needs to be found either against Charlotte on Friday, or by Sunday when the Bulls wrap up the season in Minnesota.
Find that first, and then be prepared to take that next step.
“What I am saying is there is a growth period that you have to become tougher, nastier,” Donovan said. “You just become hardened and understand what it’s all about.
“I’ve loved these guys. They’ve been great. And what they’re going through is going to be very valuable in terms of helping them grow. But there’s a lot that goes into this. And it can’t be, ‘Sorry, it’s my fault.’ Those things add up over a period of time.”