Even with yet another beat-down by an elite Eastern Conference team on the resume and only two regular-season games left, DeMar DeRozan will have to be pried out of the starting lineup.
The veteran’s mindset was there are no such thing as meaningless NBA games.
Especially for a Bulls team that continues searching for something … anything.
“I don’t need no time off,” DeRozan said. “It takes that one game for us to be going completely in the right direction.”
It sure wasn’t going to be found on Wednesday.
In what is turning into a depressing storyline for not only the Bulls, but their fan base, Boston was the latest conference powerhouse to drag the Bulls to the woodshed, hammering them at the United Center 117-94.
Not only the third-consecutive loss for the Bulls (45-35), but a loss that moved them to a combined 1-20 on the year against contending teams in Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Memphis, Phoenix and Golden State.
The only win over that group came against the Celtics, but that was way back on Nov. 1. As a matter of fact, the last time the Bulls beat a team that was currently sitting with a .600 winning percentage or better came on Nov.10, when they beat Dallas.
Against the top four teams from both conferences the Bulls dropped to 2-21 combined.
And while the Bulls clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday, heading back to the postseason for the first time since 2017, DeRozan’s attitude was there was still work to be done.
“There’s nothing like having a rhythm while playing,” DeRozan said. “I’m going to continue to play this thing out, and hopefully we’re going in the right direction come next week. It’s going to come. It sucks right now over the last couple of weeks, but I have the utmost confidence in the guys.”
He might be in the minority these days.
Even Zach LaVine sounded concerned after the Boston game.
“We got to find some fight in the next few games before it becomes real time,” LaVine said.
It’s not just the quality of teams the Bulls have been losing to lately, but also the way they’re losing. They haven’t been competitive against a quality team since a six-point March 4 loss to the Bucks. Since then Philadelphia beat them by 15, the Suns by 27, the Heat by 18 on Saturday, Milwaukee by 21 Tuesday, and now the latest nightmare
Of the top nine teams in the East, the Bulls are the only one with a negative point differential, which rarely translates well into any sort of playoff run.
That doesn’t mean DeRozan wasn’t proud of the turnaround from last season.
“As long as the opportunity is there, it’s a chance,” DeRozan said. “It would be different if we weren’t making it and we were talking about next year. For us to still have a chance and have an opportunity to pick it up and use these next couple games to be going in the right direction at the right time, that’s what it’s all about. Anything can happen. You always kind of look at it from the positive point of view.”
Hard to do after the Celtics throttling.
DeRozan finished with 16, Nikola Vucevic added 13, and LaVine chipped in with seven. All three sat most of the fourth.
“The road this time of year for any team is never easy,” Donovan said after the latest loss. “We need to understand exactly what we could be walking into [for the playoffs].
“Some of our guys it’s new. There is a growth period where you have to become tougher, nastier … these moments where you’re playing against quality teams, you get to a point where you say, ‘Enough.’ We’ve got to get that.”