Bulls' Already Spotty D Showing More Cracks

The Bulls allowed 28 fast-break points in a 123-107 loss to the Lakers on Tuesday.

Cody Westerlund
March 12, 2019 - 10:46 pm
Bulls coach Jim Boylen

Matt Marton/USA Today Sports

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CHICAGO (670 The Score) – With his Bulls leading 60-55 against the Lakers at halftime Tuesday evening, coach Jim Boylen expressed disappointment to his players in giving up a 39-point second quarter to Los Angeles as it cut into a 20-point deficit.

From there, Boylen’s disgust would only grow.

The Lakers posted a 43-point third quarter en route to a 123-107 win against the Bulls at the United Center, a result that officially eliminated Chicago from playoff contention. Led by LeBron James’ 36 points, the Lakers shot a blistering 54.7 percent, registered 28 fast-break points and hit 13-of-33 on 3-pointers after entering the game second-to-last in shooting 33.3 percent from long range.

“I didn’t like our edge and our toughness,” Boylen said.

Chicago’s defense has been a mess too often for Boylen’s liking lately. For the season, the Bulls are 25th in the league with a 110.4 defensive rating, but they’ve regressed since Feb. 1. In their last 17 games, the Bulls have a 114.7 defensive rating, which ranks 28th in the NBA since Feb. 1.

That time frame dovetails with the Bulls showing more life in an offensive resurgence, but it has come with increased leaks at the other end.

“We’ve got to figure it out and communicate with each other,” point guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “I think we’ve been doing a better job, and we’ve shown great spurts of playing solid defense. But we just got to do it for 48 minutes.”

The Bulls’ defensive troubles have come for myriad reasons. They’re the second-youngest team in the NBA. Rookie center Wendell Carter Jr., arguably their most instinctive defender, suffered a season-ending thumb injury in mid-January. They often cite a lack of communication for problems.

Sometimes, Boylen and the Bulls have proved to be too stubborn in their original game plan. Such was the case Sunday, when Chicago consistently went under screens against Detroit, which hung 131 points and 19 3-pointers.

Other times, the onus must simply fall on the players. That was certainly the case as the Bulls were beat down the floor by the Lakers in transition and in the second half, when Los Angeles often was creating offense simply by beating Chicago defenders one-on-one off the dribble. In each of their past two games, the Bulls played without leading scorer Zach LaVine, who's also considered one of their weakest defenders.

On Tuesday, their blitzing and switching on James in the second half did nothing to deter him.

“They spread us out,” Boylen said. “I thought we dropped our head a little bit when we didn’t make shots, when we went through a drought. We got to communicate and talk to each other. You got to get matched to the Lakers before half court, regardless of what your match is. That’s something we talked about. We didn’t do a good job of that.”

Boylen more or less scoffed at a question about whether the Bulls fully understand his defensive system. Even before he was promoted to head coach following Fred Hoiberg’s firing on Dec. 3, Boylen was the defensive coordinator.

On the whole, the Bulls have been more aggressive defending the pick-and-roll this season than in years past.

“I don’t think their heart is bad, I don’t think their effort is bad,” Boylen said. “There’s times when we makes mistakes defensively, game plan mistakes. But we’re trying. Guys are trying. They’re communicating. We’re practicing it, and we got to get better.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.