Another elite team, another embarrassing loss for Bulls
In what coach Billy Donovan called a measuring-stick game, the Bulls once again came up very short, losing to the Heat 127-109. The defeat dropped them to the No. 6 seed in the East, and they’re a combined 0-17 against Finals contenders Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Memphis and Golden State.
The Bulls got ‘‘Haslem-ed’’ on Saturday.
That’s how bad their latest showing against an elite team went.
With 1:36 left in the game against the Heat at the United Center, 41-year-old Udonis Haslem — gray in his beard and all — entered. That’s a sign the Heat either aregetting blown out or taking their opponent to the woodshed.
Considering the Bulls’ record against the NBA’s elite this season, it was the latter.
Behind a team-high 22 points from Jimmy Butler, the Heat completed a season sweep by embarrassing the Bulls 127-109.
In another measuring stick game for the Bulls, coach Billy Donovan’s team fell very short again. The loss dropped the Bulls (45-33) to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings with four regular-season games left.
Even worse, the Bulls fell to a combined 0-17 against the Heat, Bucks, 76ers, Suns, Grizzlies and Warriors, all legitimate contenders to win the NBA title.
That record isn’t a coincidence. It’s pretty obvious the Bulls are a second-tier playoff team, seemingly preparing for an early exit from the postseason. They only can hope they can learn from it moving forward.
‘‘When you’re playing elite teams, whether in the West or the East, I think those are always measuring sticks of where you have to get to as a team,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Certainly the Heat this season and what they did the last few years, even getting to the NBA Finals [in 2020], they’re battle-tested in a lot of ways. Some of our guys are not battle-tested. You have to go through some of these moments.
‘‘When you play against elite teams, the adversity and challenge you go through is what really forces you to grow and get better because you have to confront the truth. And anytime you have to confront that, you then have got to look in the mirror and figure out ways to get better. Everybody — coaches, players, all of us together.’’
The Bulls couldn’t have asked for a better start offensively, especially for guard Zach LaVine. In the first few minutes, LaVine made three three-pointers to put to rest any questions about how his left knee was feeling.
The Bulls’ defense, however, was allowing the Heat to get buckets just as easily. They shot 63.6% in the first quarter.
Still, the Bulls withstood the flurry and trailed by only a point at the end of the first.
But there’s a reason the Heat have a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the NBA. They not only lock the opposition up, but they grind them down.
Like they did in their previous games against the Bulls this season, they stuck to that script. They outscored the Bulls 35-27 in the second quarter, then broke the game open in the third, scoring 32 points to the Bulls’ 22 to open a 19-point lead.
The fourth quarter was simply a boat race — and one the Bulls didn’t have nearly enough steam to win.
And if you thought things couldn’t get worse for the Bulls, Donovan said after the game that guard Alex Caruso’s back issues are a ‘‘problem’’ and that he might have to sit for a few games.
‘‘They just attacked our weak spots,’’ LaVine said afterward. ‘‘I have confidence in our guys [and] our coaching staff to get this right.’’