That’s not ideal for a team sliding in the Eastern Conference standings, one that possess the toughest remaining schedule in the conference. But it’s their reality.
Caruso has now played three games since returning from a 22-game absence with his fractured right wrist. He admitted after Wednesday’s 125-110 loss to the Utah Jazz that it’s sore and not 100 percent.
That played out in his three turnovers and an occasional lack of crispness with his dribbling and passing.
“It just gets hit, banged up a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just sore. It’s just going to take time,” Caruso said. “We took a very aggressive rehab schedule and ramp-up schedule so I could get back with the team and try to play. It just kind of comes with the territory.
“I’m not 100 percent. I’m not going to lie to you. But it’s more so just the rhythm of the game. Try not to make excuses, but that seven weeks is tough. I didn’t get any practices or anything. Just right back in the game. I got high standards for how I want to play, how I want the team to play. And I don’t think I’m doing my part as well I can right now, which is frustrating.”
So is the Bulls’ point-of-attack defense. Coach Billy Donovan cited the Bulls’ difficulty in limiting dribble penetration from elite offensive players like Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley Jr. That led to trapping and, ultimately, poor rotations and too much fouling.
The Jazz shot 19-for-39 from 3-point range and attempted 29 free throws.
“We’re just not winning enough possessions,” Caruso said. “I really don’t think it was an effort thing. Some games, like the Sacramento game first half, it was kind of an effort thing. We kind of gave in, subsided to the competition aspect of it and played well in the second.
“(Wednesday) our effort was good. I think it was just the execution. It’s about being solid, winning little possessions within the possession. Winning a ball screen. Winning a pindown. Winning your box out. Little things like that that we have to get better at if we want to win games when it matters. We can’t give up 125 (points), 71 in the second half.”
After holding the Cavaliers under 100 points in Caruso’s first game back, the Bulls have allowed 112 points to the Kings and 125 to the Jazz, who shot 50.6 percent.
The Bulls possess a large body of work as a stout defensive unit. That display came when they were mostly whole, with Caruso and Lonzo Ball using length and anticipation to jump passing lanes and turn defense into offense.
Ball is nearing a seven-week absence to surgery for a small meniscus tear. And the memories of the Bulls playing elite defense are fading.
“The sense of urgency has to be there,” Caruso said. “We keep talking about it. We can’t turn it on 13 games from now. I think we took a better step from where we were last game. We just didn’t execute the coverages we were supposed to be in. I don’t think we’re far off.”
Time is running out for the Bulls to right that ship.