After a fun-to-watch tank loss against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, the Chicago Bulls rolled into the Target Center tonight to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves. Despite solid play through the first three quarters, the Bulls could not hold on the whole way through, and they fell 122-104.
This matchup was a return for both Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, who spent one and three seasons in Minnesota respectively before being traded to the Bulls. Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler would’ve gotten to play against his former team, but unfortunately, he suffered a meniscus tear in his right knee last night against the Houston Rockets. He is expected to miss four to six weeks.
LaVine, who just recently came back from an ACL tear, shares his thoughts on Butler’s injury.
“It’s scary,” LaVine said. “I wish him the best. You never want to see that happen to anybody, especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team. It’s terrible.”
For the second game in a row, coach Fred Hoiberg sat Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez and started a couple young guys in David Nwaba and Cristiano Felicio instead, following orders from vice president of basketball operations John Paxson.
While the first quarter on the whole may have been slightly dull, Nwaba quickly proved why he deserves to be a starter with this ferocious poster:
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 25, 2018
The Bulls were trailing by 12 early on in the contest, but they picked up their defense in the second quarter to rally back and take the lead 62-60 as the first half came to a close. Lauri Markkanen was scoreless after two quarters, while Zach LaVine led the way with 15. Bobby Portis and Cristiano Felicio did a very nice job of shutting down Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns on the defensive end.
As the second half kicked off, Nwaba continued to demonstrate why he should be a starter. If the Bulls want a player to bring energy to the team on both ends of the floor, they’ve got it in Nwaba. Hoiberg really seems to be investing in him, as Nwaba played the most minutes of any Bull tonight with 34.
Minnesota’s point guard Jeff Teague continued to expose the Bulls on the pick-and-roll, which kept the Wolves in the game. He finished the night with 25 points. The third quarter remained competitive, as each team was matching the other tit-for-tat. With 12 minutes remaining, Chicago was down by four, 86-82.
The fourth quarter was where the Bulls derailed. In three short minutes, Chicago was already trailing by 12. Their defense was good most of the game, but as it began to falter in the fourth, so too did their ability to win tonight’s battle, and they ultimately were defeated.
Coach Hoiberg reflects on the differences between the second and third quarters.
“The second quarter was a thing of beauty,” Hoiberg said. “The ball was flying up the floor. I loved our competitive spirit to come back and take a lead at the half. The third quarter I don’t think we had the same mentality.”
Lauri Markkanen was the missing piece for the Bulls this game. He scored only three points, while shooting a poor 1-8. He has had a historic season, so expect him to perform better next time around.
Cameron Payne and Noah Vonleh both got decent minutes tonight and contributed as best they could. Payne had 11 points and Vonleh had 8, including two three-pointers. Hoiberg again elected to have Payne back up Dunn at the point guard spot rather than Jerian Grant.
As mentioned before, David Nwaba is an exciting player. He has lots of promise and hopefully, will continue to play a high number of minutes. Tonight, he finished with 14 points on 6-9 shooting, and snatched 9 rebounds.
What exactly Paxson and Hoiberg choose to do with him and Holiday should be interesting to see. The Bulls have got most of the pieces they need; they just have to put them in order.
Chicago may be tanking this season, but this is one of those games where the result is still much worse than it should’ve been. The Bulls let this game slip away from them, but they have a chance to bounce back against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, the 26th. Catch the action at 6:30 pm (CT) on WGN-TV or WSCR-AM 670.