Top Takeaways from Zach LaVine, Bulls' Loss vs. LaMelo Ball, Hornets

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 9, 2022

Top Takeaways from Zach LaVine, Bulls' Loss vs. LaMelo Ball, Hornets

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bulls fell to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, marking their fourth consecutive loss and their seventh in 10 games. It's been a disappointing slide for a squad that was 38-21 entering All-Star Weekend and contending for the top seed in the East.

    Chicago currently holds the No. 6 seed, and it will stay in that slot regardless of what happens in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This means that the Bulls will face the Miami Heat to open the postseason.

    Miami clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference on Thursday.

    This is a matchup that has loomed for weeks, though the Bulls weren't previously worried about who they would face.

    "Where we're at right now, I don't think you can worry about matchups," Alex Caruso said last month, per Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. "If we worry about us, everything will take care of itself."

    Chicago might want to worry heading into the playoffs, as Miami took all four regular-season matchups and won convincingly in each of the last three.

    Friday provided the Bulls with an opportunity to gain a little bit of momentum before the playoffs, but they were blown out instead. Here are our two biggest takeaways following Chicago's 117-133 loss to Charlotte.

Chicago Has Little Playoff Hope Without Lonzo Ball

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    Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

    The Bulls have been without Lonzo Ball since he underwent knee surgery in late January. While his injury hasn't been the only one Chicago has dealt with—Caruso and Patrick Williams also missed significant time while Zach LaVine has dealt with knee discomfort—it's been a major factor in the late-season collapse.

    Ball averaged 13 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists while playing a major role in Chicago's defense this season.

    Chicago's defense was virtually nonexistent at times against Ball's brother LaMelo and the Hornets on Friday, and the Bulls entered halftime down 28. While the Bulls might have lost anyway, it's hard to imagine that the game wouldn't have been closer with Lonzo in the lineup.

    And Chicago will be without Ball through the playoffs. On Wednesday, the Bulls shut him down for the year.

    "I think the biggest thing everybody is trying to do right now is how do we actually get him, from a health standpoint, feeling better, where he can actually start to ramp up and do some things," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said, per ESPN.

    The decision to shut down Ball isn't necessarily a signal that Chicago is punting on the 2021-22 season, but without his return, it's hard to envision the Bulls going deep. Since the All-Star break, the Bulls have gone just 7-15.

    The potential return of Ball had provided hope that Chicago could return to being the team it was in January. That hope is now gone.

The Second Half of the Season Has Been a Massive Disappointment

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    LaVine has been one of the few bright spots for Chicago over the second half of the season, despite his knee issues. On Friday, he played 30 minutes and finished with 23 points, seven assists and four rebounds.

    His efforts haven't been enough to prevent a collapse, though. A team that had championship aspirations only a couple of months ago has severely disappointed since—and the players know it. They heard it from the home crowd on Friday.

    "They should [boo]," LaVine told reporters. "It's embarrassing. We're a really good basketball team, and we're not playing like it. They know that. We know that. It's understandable. We understand that they have our back, but we got to play better."

    Injuries can either galvanize a team or send it spiraling. In Chicago's case, it's been the latter. This isn't to say that players like LaVine, Caruso, Williams and DeMar DeRozan haven't played hard. However, the team's chemistry and efficiency have been off since Ball's departure.

    Chicago still has a chance to surprise in the postseason because it has earned a berth—saying a team has "no chance" is always foolish. However, it has zero momentum going in. Friday's loss was the closet during the Bulls' four-game losing streak, and Chicago still lost by 16.

    This is not where the Bulls expected to be at the beginning of the calendar year, and no one in Chicago can be happy with how things have unfolded.