Caruso's health will be key to Bulls' playoff push
The Bulls should have an entertaining finish to the regular season. The Lakers visit the United Center on Wednesday for a quick rematch, Memphis follows on Sunday afternoon, then Atlanta with a chance for the Bulls to move up in the standings.
At this point, it should take just two or three wins in the last seven games for the Bulls to clinch a spot in the play-in tournament. A strong finish would increase the odds of moving onto the real NBA playoffs.
The Bulls' playoff hopes might hinge on the health of Alex Caruso. The Bulls are 9-3 when Caruso and Patrick Beverley both play, but Caruso sat out with a sore foot Monday when the Bulls lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 124-112.
This game was the second time in six days the Bulls were buried by a 3-point barrage. The Clippers went 20-for-40 from long range, while Philadelphia went 16-for-37 in a blowout win at the UC last Wednesday.
Caruso didn't play in either game. To be fair, he also missed the Bulls' win in Philadelphia last week, but they've won six in a row with Caruso in uniform. The sore foot is something that's bothered him for several weeks and he's missed eight games since Feb. 4.
Over the full season, Caruso is the Bulls' leader in net rating and is second behind Andre Drummond in defensive rating. The numbers are even better since Beverley arrived at the all-star break, although Derrick Jones Jr. has taken over the team lead in net rating post-all star.
So what happened Monday, when the Bulls watched Nic Batum go 8-for-10 from 3-point range and Eric Gordon 5-for-9? It was a variety of problems.
The Bulls double-teamed Kawhi Leonard frequently, which often led him to finding an open shooter at the 3-point line. There were a couple times when Russell Westbrook pushed the pace and three or four Bulls collapsed into the lane, while no one bothered to watch the trailing shooter.
Overall, though, it was just a lackluster defensive effort by the Bulls. Besides making dumb mistakes, the Bulls just didn't put the work in. Two Clippers did most of the damage, so identifying shooters shouldn't have been that hard.
"We knew going into the game that we were going to be in situations where we were going to have to protect the rim and then scramble and rotate out," coach Billy Donovan said after the game. "I think we've been pretty good most the year, but we didn't do a great job of that.
"We were late helping. Late rotating. I don't think our communications and rotations were great. When a team gets into rhythm, that's usually what happens."
Not many NBA players cover as much ground on defense as Caruso. His strength isn't necessarily shutting down an opposing scorer, it's doing a little bit of everything. It's not in his DNA to cover one person. He helps on the ball, jumps out to challenge shooters, gets into passing lanes.
The rest of the Bulls can't help but work harder when Caruso and Beverley are both on the floor. At least, that's been the case since the all-star break.
Caruso is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game against the Lakers with the left midfoot soreness. The Lakers listed LeBron James (foot) as questionable and D'Angelo Russell, who missed Sunday's game, probable with right hip soreness.
Fan Fest returns:
Bulls Fest will return for a second year on Aug. 12-13, the team announced. The event includes a 3-on-3 tournament, art show, kids activities and more.
Jones leads G League:
Bulls guard Carlik Jones officially won the G League scoring title, averaging 26.1 points per game, along with 7 assists. The Windy City Bulls finished with an 18-14 record, but missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker.