Bulls fall to top-tier team again with NBA trade deadline looming

The three-point loss wasn’t that close; the Suns controlled the game the whole way. DeMar DeRozan wants the Bulls to stand pat before the deadline Thursday, but will they?

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The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan doesn’t believe the team needs to make any major deals before Thursday’s trade deadline.

The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan doesn’t believe the team needs to make any major deals before Thursday’s trade deadline.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Veteran forward DeMar DeRozan is perfectly fine with the Bulls’ roster staying as it is with the trade deadline arriving Thursday.

He made that very clear after the Bulls’ loss Sunday to the 76ers.

“Yeah, only you all [the media] talk about that,” DeRozan said when he was asked about the Bulls standing pat. “We don’t talk about it.”

He and his teammates might want to start.

In another measuring-stick game Monday, the Bulls came up short against the NBA-leading Suns, falling 127-124. The final score was much closer than the game was because of some last-minute scoring when the benches were cleared.

DeRozan’s point was understandable, though. After all, he’s the clear leader of the locker room, and the message from the front office the last few weeks has remained that it values team chemistry over adding talent.

That’s why DeRozan pointed out: “We’re missing Lonzo Ball, one of the top point guards in this league; Alex Caruso, one of the best defenders in this league; Patrick Williams, one of the young stars in this league. We haven’t had those guys. And we have them; they’ll be back. We don’t need to worry or stress about having nobody else.”

The game against the Suns was a reminder, however, that all three are still at least a month away from returning from their injuries. And even when they do return, nothing is guaranteed.

Coach Billy Donovan wanted to remind his players of that after the loss.

“To sit there and say, ‘OK, when they get back, it’s all going to get solved,’ I don’t believe that,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘It’s got to be a team thing [on defense].”

Guard Zach LaVine agreed.

“We’ve got to have a certain urgency, no matter who is on the floor,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘With those guys out, we’re not going to have the strongest defense because that’s what they do. But we’ve got to hold the ship down.”

Between now and when the roster gets healthy, the Bulls — who fell into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference — still must play high-quality basketball. And not just offensively.

The Bulls’ ball movement was less than stellar on a night that saw LaVine (back) return to the starting lineup and guard Coby White (groin) return to the bench, but the defense again was the bigger culprit.

The first four minutes of the game provided evidence of that, as the Bulls allowed one of the more efficient offenses in the league to have its way with them in jumping out to a 10-point lead. The Suns scored 36 points in the first quarter.

By halftime, the Suns’ lead was 18, and the Bulls had allowed them to shoot 56.5% from the field and outrebound them 25-18.

But the real gut punch was the one-on-one game the Bulls’ offense turned into. They went into the locker room at the break with only seven assists.

Any thought of a third-quarter comeback was squashed quickly, as the Suns built their lead to 27 at one point.

Then there was the fourth-quarter tease, with the Bulls eventually cutting their deficit to three. The Suns, however, were never in danger of losing control on the scoreboard.

As for the trade-deadline talk, LaVine said he would leave those decisions up to the front office.

“Whoever is out on the floor with us, I’m ready to go to battle with them,” LaVine said.

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