BULLet points: Heroic Butler performance can’t save Bulls season

I’m a little conflicted as to whether or not I want the Bulls to make the playoffs, because on one hand, even an eight seed means at least a few more games and a chance to surprise Cleveland in the first round, but on the other hand, it seems like continuing to lose in the waning weeks of the season exposes the troubles of this team in a way that hopefully leads to change. The trouble with the losses is that watching games like last night’s against Detroit is increasingly difficult. These two teams have been pretty evenly matched all season, so it is no surprise that this game stayed close throughout, but it remains frustrating to watch the Bulls continue to lose, as they did 94-90 at the United Center last night, dropping to an even 38-38 and now two games out of the eighth seed. The patterns to their losses are very familiar now, but there are a few things that stood out to me last night, so let’s take a look:

  • This was their 22nd different lineup last night. This is an effect, of course, of injuries to key players throughout the season, but that kind of inconsistency has plagued them all year when it comes to who starts each game. Some shifting in the starting five is natural, but not necessarily to this degree. Last night they started with E’Twuan Moore, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Bobby Portis, and Pau Gasol. Moore was an important factor in keeping their defense somewhat solid – the lack of which was plainly evident when some of the bench players came in last night.
  • Derrick Rose was still out with his injured elbow that was hyper-extended on Thursday in Houston. Rose might be able to return against the Bucks today, but that will depend on his level of soreness. Despite the struggles of the team around him, Rose has quietly put together a very quality season, as our own Drew Hackman wrote here just a few days ago. Rose has consistently shot well in 2016 and is a key part of the scoring attack, as he has changed his approach to the rim.
  • The Bulls were also without Taj Gibson, who has not played since Tuesday against the Pacers. Like Rose, Gibson could return against the Bucks today, but that is unclear so far.
  • Speaking of players who have put together solid seasons, Gasol had another strong night, scoring 16 and grabbing 14 rebounds. As recently as the February trade deadline, Gasol has been named as a probable part of the Bulls future as they move on from this season, but of late, this stance has changed. He wants to compete for a championship, and at 35 years old, his opportunities to do so are fleeting, so sticking with a Bulls team that looks to be in need of a massive overhaul makes less and less sense for him and for Chicago. He’s often been a bright spot this year, but it might be time for him to go when he’s officially a free agent in July.
  • Last night, Butler ran the offense. Jimmy has been casual about the role of point guard in the past, but while Aaron Brooks presents trouble for the Pistons on defense, he offers little defense of his own and especially last night, was rarely consistent about actually running the offense. Though Brooks was able to score 14 points, he had just two assists. He regularly drove to the bucket last night without bothering to even look to see if passes could be made to set up a better shot, and then left the perimeter open to outside shooting on the other end of the floor. Brooks’ time on the floor probably should have been kept to shorter stints in order to offer scoring bursts and in order for Moore to keep the defense solid.
  • The Bulls bench, which has shown just flashes of its former greatness throughout the season this year, greatly outscored the Pistons bench last night, but not enough to turn the tide of the game. Here’s where Brooks’ lack of reliable defense probably outweighed his offensive contributions.
  • Though last night’s game was yet another microcosm of the frustrations of the season as a whole, Butler had an absolutely career night. His performance evoked the likes of Michael Jordan in some ways last night, particularly his team leading rebounding. In the end, he had his first career triple double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. He was brilliant to watch, and probably the key reason the Bulls didn’t get blown out of their home arena last night. Butler has somehow been a name mentioned in trade rumors for the summer, though I am quite skeptical. The Bulls probably do need an extensive overhaul, but trading Butler means they are essentially scrapping the whole team as we know it, and the front office in Chicago has not shown a propensity for those kinds of extreme measures.
  • Coming up: with just six games left, the Bulls have a chance to grab a win tonight in Milwaukee.
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