10 observations: Bulls' defense collapses vs. Wolves


The 2022-23 Chicago Bulls' rock bottom continues to sink.

The latest submission was allowing 150 points in regulation to Minnesota Timberwolves — who, it should be noted played without their starting frontcourt of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert — in a 24-point defeat, bumping their current losing streak to four and dropping their season-long record to 11-18.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Again, the Bulls were blitzed from 3-point range early in a game — and again, by a team without a strong track record in that department. A Minnesota team which entered play 24th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (33.4) and makes per game (10.8) made five of its first seven attempts from that distance, finished the first quarter 6-for-12 and the first half 12-for-21 (57.1 percent).

With that, Bulls opponents are shooting 39.7 percent from 3-point range in the first half of games this year, 29th in the league. The Timberwolves pulled off some heavily-contested makes on Sunday, but more times than not, they let the ball fly either against a sagged-off or late-rotating defender.

2. D'Angelo Russell, who had been questionable pregame with a knee injury, was particularly scalding, scoring 20 points and making six of seven 3-point attempts in the opening two quarters. The Bulls lost him behind the arc a few times, but he was unconscious regardless of distance, angle or contest level:

Russell's scoring outburst — and pick-and-roll passing, which set the table for a few loud finishes around the rim — catalyzed a 39-point second quarter for Minnesota. Their 71 first-half points marked the most the Bulls have allowed in a half this season, and the 13th time they have allowed more than 60.

3. It would be easy to chalk the Timberwolves' gaudy scoring total to scalding shooting. But truth be told, the Bulls' defense was porous both outside and inside.

The numbers say Minnesota put up season-highs for a Bulls opponent in points (150), field goals (57) and 3-pointers (23) while shooting 65.5 percent from the field, 53.5 percent from 3-point range and 88.9 percent (24-for-27) at the rim.

4. The eye-test was even worse. Miscommunications on help assignments while defending screen-and-roll were consistent. A lack of urgency and organization getting back in transition was frequent. Multiple times in the third quarter, the Timberwolves even beat the Bulls back up the court after Bulls made baskets, an inexcusable occurrence.

It got to the point that, midway through the third, the Bulls switched to a zone for a spell. But the Timberwolves torched that too with backdoor cuts and more made jumpers. In all, Minnesota scored 118 points between quarters two and four — 39 in the second, 42 in the third and 37 in the fourth. By the waning minutes of the game, they were grinning and dancing up and down the court as if in an empty playground.

And the evening ended with Billy Donovan repeatedly, and damningly, calling out his team's competitive fire.

5. For much of the evening, the Bulls' offense was able to keep enough pace to remain within shouting distance. By night's end, DeMar DeRozan (29 points), Nikola Vučević (23) and Zach LaVine (22) all had fairly efficient 20-plus-point outings. As a team, they shot 52.3 percent, made 16 3-pointers and handed out 31 assists. But all it amounted to were empty stats and another frustrating wrinkle of another double-digit defeat.

6. Plus, for whatever it is worth, the Bulls also committed 11 turnovers in this game. That is fewer than the high-teens/low-20s performances that have dotted the game log recently. But the giveaways they did commit stuck out, because the Timberwolves converted 20 points off of them, another nod to the Bulls' poor transition defense.

7. In a curious — perhaps matchup-based? — decision, Andre Drummond logged a healthy DNP in this one. Instead, Derrick Jones Jr. received the backup center minutes (20 total, with Javonte Green injured).

Jones Jr. played well enough, posting 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, and he plays to a versatile and active defensive identity. And Drummond likely does not swing the lopsided result. But it is difficult not to ponder how he might have affected this game, given the Bulls' glaring struggles protecting the rim and the absence of the Timberwolves' starting power forward and center.

8. Back to the defense: Not only was that 150 points a season-high for Minnesota, it also marked a Timberwolves franchise record. And it is the fourth-most points the Bulls have allowed in regulation in franchise history (first time over 150 points since November of 1982).

9. The Timberwolves' remaining lead scorers players performed as such, with Anthony Edwards posting 37 points and 11 assists and Russell dropping 28 points and eight dimes. Russell's jump-shooting (7-for-10 from 3-point range) was back-breaking and Edwards' drive game (7-for-10 in the paint) looked unstoppable given the Bulls' lacking competitiveness.

But they also had a next-man-up mentality in the frontcourt, with Naz Reid stepping up to score their first 10 points of the game and Nathan Knight contributing 16 points off the bench.

10. This game marked the first of a four-game road trip for the Bulls that sees stops in Miami, Atlanta and New York (to face the Knicks). And the loss dropped the Bulls to a dismal 4-11 on the road this season compared to 7-7 at home. Needless to say, a pivotal stretch awaits.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Miami Heat on Tuesday.

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