NEW ORLEANS — Something has to give.
A season-high five-game losing streak and falling to a season-worst 12 games under .500 will test even the most positive and most competitive person.
Depending on who you talked to before and after the Bulls’ latest misstep, a 123-108 loss to a Pelicans team without Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday, the culprits are everywhere.
Players pointed to opponents making adjustments and the Bulls being slow to respond. Coach Jim Boylen pointed to lack of energy and the mistakes of youth.
Whatever it is, and it’s a lot, it needs to be fixed in a hurry or the season is truly going to go south.
“It’s starting to get repetitive. Keep saying it, saying it, saying it. It’s going to get to a time where, are we going to do something about it?” Kris Dunn said. “We still have a chance to be in the race for the playoffs. It’s gotta mean something to this locker room.”
Zach LaVine always takes losing hard. But he looked utterly despondent when Boylen raised the white flag and inserted end-of-the-bench guys with 2 minutes, 40 seconds left.
“We got outplayed. They locked into what we were doing. They went into their halftime and adjusted their offense a little bit and picked us apart. Same storyline,” LaVine said. “I think we’re a good team with a lot of good pieces. It’s just upsetting when we can’t put it together and get wins. We work hard. I work hard individually. I try to give it my all. When you do that and it doesn’t work out, you get a little pissed off.”
Tied at 48-48, the Bulls succumbed to a season-long storyline, getting outscored by 17 in a brutal third quarter in which the Pelicans shot 65 percent.
The defensive miscues continued in the fourth as the Bulls repeatedly either miscommunicated or didn’t execute schemes properly. They doubled off sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They failed to rotate to wide-open corner 3-point attempts.
The Pelicans scored 75 second-half points on 59 percent shooting.
“I thought our energy dipped and we missed a few assignments. I thought some of the newness and youngness weighed on us,” Boylen said. “I think some of it is energy. I think some of it is our aggressiveness. I think some of it is poor offensive execution. We had some undisciplined plays [defensively].”
LaVine played a mature game, attacking the rim early and moving the ball before asserting himself in the second half. He finished with 32 points and six assists. Dunn tied his season high with five steals and sank three 3-pointers for the first time since March of last season en route to 15 points.
Yes, playing without the injured Wendell Carter Jr. hurt their defense. But Thad Young, in his first start as Bull, had a solid night with 18 points and six rebounds.
The Bulls’ bench was largely ineffective, highlighted by Chandler Hutchison’s minus-15 in just 13 minutes.
“He’s working his way back,” Boylen said. “How many games has he missed? He missed games last year. He missed games this year. We’re trying to get him acclimated without throwing too much at him but also get him some minutes. He’s trying and he cares. We’re excited about Chandler Hutchison. He’s working his way back.”
The Bulls entered Wednesday night with a net rating of minus-8.7 in the third quarter. That number sank to minus-10.2 after the night's results were logged. That’s a problem.
“Teams are making adjustments. And we gotta be able to adjust with them,” Dunn said. “Credit New Orleans. They made adjustments to our defense. At the same time, it’s our fault. The players on the court have to be able to see what they’re doing. We just couldn’t get a grasp of it.
“This is the NBA. Once guys get going, especially good players, it’s hard to stop their rhythm. Brandon [Ingram] got going. We gotta be men about it. It’s basketball. It’s a game of runs. Things happen. We have to be able to withstand it and fight through adversity. We did it at times this season. But we have to do it more.”
At the morning shootaround, Boylen talked about establishing a style of play and an identity. While acknowledging an offensive rating ranked 28th in the league lagged, he again pointed to a top-five defense whose standing took a beating by the Pelicans and dropped to eighth.
“I think we have grown offensively. I think we are more comfortable in the system. We are making more basketball plays — backdoors and forceful cuts — for situations where we get a layup in the halfcourt. That is happening more often — not enough but more often,” Boylen said Wednesday morning. “We’ve established a defensive identity. We know how we want to play offensively and have not played as well as I would’ve hoped. I can’t deny that.
“What I wanted to do was establish a system where we learned how to play basketball. And we get into a playoff situation and when a team locks into you and you play basketball, you don’t run this set and they know it’s coming and they lock you down. You have to make reads. So I’m giving these guys the menu where we’re struggling and what read to take. That’s what we’re teaching. That’s the way I believe you build a championship caliber team.
“I know you’re probably making fun of me saying, ‘championship caliber team.’ That’s what I’m trying to build. That’s all I’m worried about. I believe in this business coaching by faith on where we’re going to be. If I shortcut that — not that we don’t need to win — then I don’t really care about the franchise and what we’re doing.”
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.