On the heels of yet another disappointing loss for the Chicago Bulls, could bigger problems be brewing beneath the surface?
They had a late four-point lead but gave that up in a wild finish, falling 108-107.
The Bulls rallied back from being down by 19 points in the second half, albeit to a short-handed Orlando Magic team missing rookie Paolo Banchero who is arguably already the best player on the roster.
On the other side, the Bulls’ best player – or at least their highest-paid player – Zach LaVine was not on the floor in those closing minutes as the Bulls took that final lead. He was also not on the floor as they lost it and the game on a last-second three from Magic guard Jalen Suggs leaving the two-time All-Star to answer some tough questions after the game.
LaVine: ‘That’s On Billy’
Speaking with reporters after the game, LaVine appeared calm as he answered questions about being taken off of the floor with under four minutes to go.
The olympian said head coach Billy Donovan would have to “lay with it”
“It’s Billy’s decision not to play me down the fourth quarter or the stretch,” LaVine said. It’s a tough decision. You think, obviously, I want to be out there. Of course. It’s the reason I’m here is to go out there and be Zach LaVine. But it’s coach’s decision…It’s tough but that’s why he’s the coach. He makes those decisions.”
LaVine finished the game with four points on 1-of-14 shooting.
He added five rebounds and two assists with one turnover. But his night was marred by brick after brick and some questionable decisions like attempting a step-back three instead of attacking with the Bulls threatening earlier in the fourth quarter.
“Obviously, I got to do a better job in the beginning of the game to…I got to make my shots. But you play a guy like me down the stretch, that’s what I do. But, do I like the decision? No. Do I got to live with it? Yea. Get ready to put my shoes on and play the next game.”
LaVine said that he wasn’t sure whether he would speak with Donovan about the benching.
He did echo Donovan’s sentiments that the Bulls are not putting enough effort in to win as expected and that was on the players.
But it was also clear that his confidence was not shaken, at least not to the point where he felt being benched was the right decision. LaVine pointed to his ability to score in bunches as part of his reasoning.
”I’ve missed a lot of shots, man. But I’ve had a lot of games where I’ve played terrible and in four-to-five minutes I can get 15, 16 points. I just wasn’t able to shoot the next shot.”
It was not an all-out assault on Donovan despite the pointed comments from the Bulls’ $215 million man. He also said that the Bulls could withstand this current storm despite the troubling optics.
“It sucks. But I think we’ll be okay. We’re strong-minded enough that I think we’ll be alright.”
Bad News Bulls
This was the first game this season in which LaVine failed to reach double-digit points in a game this season and only the fifth time he’s failed to reach even five points since coming over to the Bulls via trade in 2017.
“Just trying to catch a rhythm and see the next one go in. I think I took a lot of shots that normally go in for me but they just didn’t. It just sucks but it’s a game. You got to move on to the next one, be able to outdo what you just did. I had a tough night shooting the ball. I wish we were able to win.”
LaVine’s teammate DeMar DeRozan has scored at least 40 points twice this season. The Bulls have lost both games by a combined five points.
The Bulls have now lost four straight and six of their last seven.
They also gave up the Magic’s first road win of the season while falling five games back of last season’s pace. The Bulls’ three-game deficit behind this year’s current six-seed – where they finished last season – is the same gap between them and the worst team in the conference, the Detroit Pistons, leaving the Bulls facing plenty of questions.