Bulls’ struggles against NBA’s elite continue with loss to Grizzlies

Ja Morant had a career-high 46 points, while DeMar DeRozan watched his historic eight-game streak of 35-plus points on at least 50% shooting come to an end. Bigger picture for the Bulls: They slipped to 0-7 against the four NBA teams with a better record than them.

SHARE Bulls’ struggles against NBA’s elite continue with loss to Grizzlies

The Grizzlies’ Ja Morant scores past the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan during the second half Saturday at the United Center.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

It’s becoming a concerning pattern. Too many wilting moments against the NBA’s elite teams.

It happened again Saturday in the 116-110 loss to the Grizzlies.

The Bulls (39-22) are 0-7 against the four teams that have a better record, and 0-10 if the 76ers are factored into the equation.

“We take it on as a challenge to play better against the better teams,’’ guard Coby White said. “We fought back, but we just gotta have that same physicality we had in the fourth quarter the entire game.’’

The Bulls dug a 17-point hole and allowed MVP candidate Ja Morant to score a career-high 46 points at the United Center.

“He’s a good player, obviously,’’ White said. “He’s really good at getting downhill. We honestly could have done a better job being more physical with him.’’

DeMar DeRozan had 31 points but watched his historic streak of eight consecutive games with at least 35 points while shooting 50% or better from the field come to an end.

The reasons behind the loss were easy for coach Billy Donovan to see.

First, there was the offensive rebounding.

The Grizzlies specialize in second-chance points, especially with Steven Adams patrolling the paint. And all the big man did in his first 8:35 was score 13 points and grab 11 rebounds, including six offensive boards.

By the time the first half ended, the Grizzlies had outscored the Bulls 38-22 in the paint and had 15 second-chance points compared to the Bulls’ seven.

The Grizzlies entered the game 13th in opponents’ field-goal percentage, but they’re the one team DeRozan has had fits against throughout his career.

DeRozan went 0-for-6 in the first quarter and only made his first field goal with 8:38 left in the second quarter.

As bad as the first-half execution went, however, the Bulls still went into halftime down only seven, overcoming a 15-point deficit.

Thank White for that, as well as newcomer Tristan Thompson.

White scored eight points off the bench, and Thompson again provided a spark, playing very much like his role model, Dennis Rodman.

“The fact I’m able to put on a Chicago Bulls jersey and go out there and try to make Dennis proud, that’s all I’m trying to do,’’ Thompson said.

That’s all well and good, but Thompson wasn’t stopping the Morant onslaught in the third quarter. Heck, Rodman would have had trouble with Morant.

He put on a show, scoring 20 points in the quarter on 6-for-7 shooting from the field and 7-for-8 shooting from the free-throw line.

Finally, the Bulls woke up. It was Zach LaVine early in the fourth quarter, then DeRozan late to spearhead a 14-0 run.

The Bulls cut the deficit to one, but Desmond Bane hit one of the bigger shots of the game, stepping into a three-pointer with 1:21 left to put Memphis up by four.

After Nikola Vucevic split a pair of free throws, the Bulls eventually earned the stop, and LaVine made two free throws with 25.5 seconds left.

The Bulls were forced to foul, putting guard Tyus Jones at the line with 14.9 seconds left. Jones made both.

DeRozan tried to answer that hero call once again, but as he tried to split a double-team, he got the ball swiped and was eventually tossed with a second technical.

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