In the early going of the 2021-22 National Basketball Association season, the Chicago Bulls were 26-10 and were riding a nine-game winning streak.
They were sitting pretty in first place in the Eastern Conference and had people throughout Illinois thinking they were about to make a serious run at the world championship.
But shortly afterward, the Bulls went into a freeze, losing seven of their next nine games, and they haven’t fully recovered since.
Since late February, they have only gone 6-14, and with the regular season about to end, they sit in sixth place in the east.
The way things are going, Chicago is on its way to falling in the first round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
The Bulls Haven’t Stayed Healthy
Granted, the Bulls have dealt with key injuries for a good part of this season.
Without Ball and Caruso, the Bulls are missing their starting point guard who helps get them easy baskets in transition, as well as arguably their two best defensive backcourt players.
Ball and Caruso both possess good height and length, and both are proven defenders (Ball is averaging 1.8 steals per game this year while Caruso is putting up 1.7 steals a game).
But Chicago has had other problems.
Chicago’s D Has Faltered
The key to the Bulls’ great start was their defense, and they boasted one of the NBA’s most stifling defenses over the first couple of months of the schedule.
But more recently, they haven’t been able to contain, let alone stop opponents.
Everyone knows that defense is the key to winning championships, and the Bulls haven’t exactly looked like worldbeaters on that end of the floor lately.
Yes, injuries could be partly to blame, but when an NBA team is truly committed to playing suffocating defense and has the right defensive scheme in place, key injuries won’t cause such a dramatic dropoff in that category.
On Friday, Chicago lost to the Charlotte Hornets, a mediocre team, by a wide margin, giving up 133 points and allowing them to shoot 60.5 percent from the field and 47.5 percent from 3-point range.
So much of the Bulls' issues on defense stems from zero communication. This is extremely problematic when they get in rotation.
DeMar & DJJ don't talk when guarding the roll-man, leaving Coby to cover two by himself.
Both run to the corner, leaving the middle open.
Really bad. pic.twitter.com/LusJVEwr5e
— Mark K (@mkhoops) April 9, 2022
Example of the Bulls weakside defense having no clue what it's doing:
LaVine sinks to the roll-man, tries to x-out on Miles Bridges, assuming Williams is going to cover the corner shooter, but doesn't.
No communication -> open 3. pic.twitter.com/lss8lFZtz8
— Mark K (@mkhoops) April 9, 2022
The Bulls Have Failed To Defeat Their Potential First-Round Opponents
Chicago has done poorly in the regular season against other good and great teams, and in particular, it has really struggled against the three teams it may face when the playoffs begin.
The Bulls are 1-2 on the season versus the Boston Celtics, and they are winless against the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.
Those records are a very concerning red flag.
In particular, the Philadelphia 76ers could be a very dangerous matchup for the Bulls, as they possess Joel Embiid, the league’s most dominant center and perhaps the soon-to-be MVP.
Bulls starting center Nikola Vucevic is not known as a stellar defender, and his teammates could have major problems rotating out to Philly’s 3-point shooters, men such as Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris and Danny Green.
A first-round loss, however, won’t exactly be the end of the world for Chicago, as it boasts a young roster, and such a loss could teach it a lot about what it takes to attain championship status.