Just a couple of months ago, things were looking rosy for the young and talented Chicago Bulls.
As the All-Star break started, they stood in first place in the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference with a 38-21 record, and the immediate future looked very bright for them.
But they went cold afterward, going just 8-15 and finishing with a 46-36 record, which was only good enough for sixth place in the conference.
The Bulls felt they had a shot in the first round of the playoffs versus the defending world champion Milwaukee Bucks, but instead they fell in five games – despite Khris Middleton missing three of those contests.
Now Chicago will face a long offseason in which it will have to reassess its overall situation.
Where and why did it all go wrong for them?
Injuries are always the one thing that threatens to prevent any team in any sport from becoming its best self and rising to meet expectations.
The Bulls certainly couldn’t stay healthy this season, as several of their key players missed a considerable amount of time, which hurt their chances in the playoffs and presented an impediment to their efforts to build chemistry.
Zach LaVine, their high-flying young star, was out for 15 games this season due to an assortment of ailments, and he missed the final game of the Milwaukee series after being placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
Lonzo Ball, their starting point guard, only played in 35 contests and has been out since midseason with a knee injury.
The former UCLA star has always been injury-prone, but when he was healthy, he was almost like an X-factor for Chicago.
Ball’s ability to push the pace, hit the open man, connect on 3-pointers, and defend players at multiple positions would’ve been a big help down the stretch of the schedule and against the Bucks in the playoffs.
Alex Caruso, the former Los Angeles Laker, only played 41 games due to an injured wrist, and his energy, hustle, and defense would’ve been welcome late in the season.
Early in the season, the Bulls were one of the best defensive teams in basketball, as head coach Billy Donovan had gotten his players to buy into winning at that end of the floor.
But that defense fell apart later in the year, and they finished with an anemic 113.6 defensive rating, which was just 22nd in the NBA.
In the playoffs, Chicago allowed the Bucks to score at least 110 points in all but one game while giving up 28.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 6.2 assists a game on 56.8 percent shooting by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Giannis Antetokounmpo DOMINATED the Bulls in their 5-game series 😤
27 PTS – 16 REBS – 3 ASTS – 52.6% FG
33 PTS – 18 REBS – 9 ASTS – 55% FG
18 PTS – 7 REBS – 9 ASTS – 58.3% FG
32 PTS – 17 REBS – 7 ASTS – 50% FG
33 PTS – 9 REBS – 3 ASTS – 73.3% FG pic.twitter.com/3yfvAFTljz
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 28, 2022
Surely, injuries played somewhat of a role, but a truly great defensive team will remain solid on that end no matter who is able to suit up on any given night.
In the end, the Bulls were just too young to make any real noise in the playoffs.
To put it bluntly, they weren’t ready to beat the title contenders, especially when it mattered.
Chicago went a combined 1-18 versus the Bucks, Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Updated map showing NBA teams who have a worse record then the Bulls against “contenders” this year: pic.twitter.com/D99YFRz4hO
— Micah Roschke (@MicahRoschke) March 5, 2022
The team is young, but it had a lack of veterans this season to teach it how to win big games.
Ultimately, as the old saying goes, experience is the best teacher, and the Bulls can become stronger and better as a result of being humbled by the Bucks.