Bulls

With the NBA lineup police watching, Bulls change the starters and beat Memphis

Lineup plans were rearranged, and words were chosen carefully.

That’s what the last 24 hours were like for the Bulls before their 119-110 victory against the Grizzlies on Wednesday night with big brother’s eyes all over them.

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Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson issued a statement Tuesday that the Bulls had been in discussions with the NBA league office about its concerns that Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez had for the most part been inactive since All-Star Weekend.

The Bulls’ argument was that they were trying to get a look at the younger players on the roster. They pointed out that Lopez and Holiday were initially supposed to come off the bench but opted to sit out all together for the betterment of the team.

The league — growing more and more sensitive to the tanking loopholes that have crept into the system it created — insisted that the new “rest rules’’ for players instituted before the start of the season were being skirted and were expecting a different look from the Bulls.

That “open dialogue’’ turned into action against the Grizzlies, as Holiday was inserted into the starting lineup for David Nwaba.

He scored 14 points in just under 18 minutes and helped the Bulls (22-42) bounce back from an embarrassing 105-89 showing Monday against the Celtics.

There’s no question the Bulls are one of at least eight organizations that are tanking, but they aren’t even close to being the league’s biggest culprits. Coincidentally, the Grizzlies have lost 15 consecutive games, playing lineup roulette with Mike Conley (left heel), Tyreke Evans (ribs) and Chandler Parsons (personal reasons) throughout the season.

So why the Bulls?

“I can’t really comment on that,’’ Lopez said. “I’m not too familiar with what the NBA is thinking. I never talked to them during this process, and I’m not too familiar with what’s going on with other teams in that regard.’’

Holiday took a similar hands-off approach.

“I don’t know all the rules and loopholes,’’ Holiday said. “They said, ‘Justin, you’re playing [Wednesday].’ They told me it would be days I was gonna play. And that’s how it goes. As far as them speaking to the league, that’s for them, and I don’t know anything about that.’’

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 by the NBA police two weeks ago for his honest comments about tanking, so excuse players if they suddenly come down with amnesia when asked about competitive balance.

And it’s not just the players, either. It has obviously spread to the coaches.

“I don’t know anything about that,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said when asked if the league was trying to plug up the holes in its flawed system.

The Bulls were trying to plug up a leaky defense that let a 21-point, third-quarter lead slip away, and they had to survive a 35-point fourth quarter by Memphis.

Luckily for them, Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn had their first game in which they all scored at least 20 points, including an 11-point fourth quarter from Dunn.

“Not just do it with action, but be vocal,’’ Dunn said of his fourth-quarter show of leadership. “I’ve gotta be the linebacker.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.
Email: jcowley@suntimes.com