Tough opening act: New-look Bulls get routed by Spurs
The Bulls had little time to work with each other after the trade deadline Thursday, and it showed. Now it’s up to All-Stars Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, the newcomer, to figure it out, and do it quickly.
There will be better nights.
There must be.
The Bulls didn’t mortgage their immediate draft future and say goodbye to youthful development just so they could be run out of the building by the Spurs in a 120-104 one-sided affair Saturday.
If there was good news to come out of the loss for the new-look Bulls, it was that they have an important practice scheduled in the Bay Area during their day off Sunday. With only 28 regular-season games left, however, they need more than that.
All-Star center and deadline addition Nikola Vucevic knows that he and Zach LaVine will work, but as the loss in San Antonio showed, it’s about getting all the pieces to work together.
There were too many moments that LaVine and others got out of their comfort zone to try to feed their highly skilled new big man.
“That’s a big part of it,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “So much of Zach, at least this year, he’s played at such an exceptionally high level and has carried us in so many ways . . . then you add a guy like ‘Vooch,’ and he’s trying to learn. . . . I think the thing that Zach cannot do is start to worry about feeding Vucevic.
“There’s opportunities to find ‘Vooch,’ and we missed him a bunch. It’s just those guys playing with each other, and I do think because Zach is an unselfish player and he wants to win, I thought he shot the ball poorly, from the perspective that he was trying to find Vucevic, and I think it took him out of rhythm, too.
‘‘But playing with a player like that will take an adjustment period, not only from LaVine, but I think from everybody.’’
“We have talked about it, and we will obviously talk more, but also part of it will be just going out there and playing our game,’’ Vucevic said. “There probably will be things that will be different, but I think overall we have to do what makes us good players. If we start doing differently, it’s not going to help anybody. Some of it is repetition and playing together. The more games we play together will help.’’
Well, obviously it’ll take at least more than one game.
The Bulls (19-25) did make a run in the fourth quarter to cut a 36-point deficit to single digits with 5:13 left, but it was just too deep a hole.
As far as the new faces, Vucevic finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, Al-Farouq Aminu had two points, Troy Brown Jr. scored eight and Javonte Green went scoreless but had a few solid defensive moments.
How all the combinations will work once Daniel Theis joins the team in time for the game against the Warriors will fall on Donovan.
And LaVine and Vucevic will have to figure out how to play their games without compromising what has made them All-Stars.
They obviously struggled with that in the first quarter. Vucevic scored the first time they got the ball to him, and then it all seemed to unravel, especially defensively.
By the end of the first quarter, the Spurs (23-20) had a 33-20 lead, and then they poured it on.
The fourth-quarter fight was nice, but it was almost as if the Spurs had checked out. Donovan found a group that was willing to take advantage of that.
“We gotta get that chemistry right,’’ LaVine said. “Vucevic is very transparent, and I’m transparent with him. I think we’re both going to figure it out. I’m not scared about that.’’