The Chicago Bulls lost for the fifth time in the last six games Wednesday, this time a 124-110 blowout on the road against a New Orleans Pelicans team playing without Zion Williamson.
Here are seven takeaways from the game, which dropped the Bulls to 11th in the Eastern Conference with a 6-9 record.
1. The Bulls gave up a double-digit lead in the third quarter despite strong starts out of halftime all season.
Entering Wednesday, the Bulls were the second-best team in the league in the third quarter with an average +3.3 differential over their opponents in the period. But the Pelicans flipped the script, starting the period on a 9-0 run and effectively ended the game with a lopsided 37-25 third quarter.
DeMar DeRozan scored 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting in the quarter as the lone source of offensive rhythm. The rest of the team went 6-for-20 from the field. Meanwhile, the Pelicans shot 6-for-11 from 3-point range alone. CJ McCollum scored nine points in the third quarter while Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III and Jonas Valančiūnas added five points apiece.
2. Nikola Vučević’s lack of scoring highlights the Bulls’ inability to capitalize in the paint.
The Bulls had a clear advantage in the paint with Williamson out. The Bulls should have been set to push their offense through Vučević, but that plan fell flat as Vučević and power forward Patrick Williams remained tentative in the matchup.
Vučević scored 12 points in the first half but managed only two in the second, fading completely in the third quarter as the Pelicans roared to their double-digit lead. Six of Vučević’s points came off 3-pointers.
The Bulls marginally outscored the Pelicans 48-46 in the paint, but didn’t manage to take advantage of clear personnel mismatches.
3. The bench unit led by Zach LaVine continues to give a boost between the first and second quarters.
One of the strongest parts of the Bulls offense this season is a secondary unit — a bench group that includes Alex Caruso, Goran Dragić and Andre Drummond and led by Zach LaVine.
After giving up an early five-point lead in yet another sluggish opening from the starters, LaVine led the secondary unit on a 15-2 run between the end of the first quarter and into the middle of the second to take a 37-32 lead. This “bridge” unit between the two quarters often has been decisive in plenty of games this season, allowing the Bulls to contain the deficit within single digits heading into halftime.
4. The Bulls still struggle to counter 3-pointers.
The 3-point line remains a weak point for the Bulls, who gave up 51 points from behind the arc Wednesday. The Pelicans aren’t a particularly prolific 3-point shooting team — ranked 22nd in the league in made 3-pointers (11.1) despite shooting a fifth-best 38.7% — but they joined a growing list of teams to capitalize on the Bulls’ lack of close-out pressure.
Six different Pelicans players made two or more 3-pointers Wednesday, but it was Murphy who scorched the Bulls by going 5-for-6 from behind the arc.
The Bulls have the second-worst 3-point defense in the league, allowing opponents to shoot at a 37% clip. And they can’t counter on the opposing end, shooting a decent 11-for-32 from behind the arc Wednesday that couldn’t keep pace with the Pelicans.
5. Ayo Dosunmu is fighting a shooting slump after a strong start from 3-point range.
Dosunmu showed off a sped-up shot that seemed improved his numbers on 3-pointers, entering this week shooting 40.1% (18-for-44) from behind the arc. But Dosunmu is now in a slight slump, going 0-for-7 between Sunday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets and Wednesday’s loss to the Pelicans.
Off nights are expected for any player, and Dosunmu’s most important role on this Bulls roster is commanding the offense. His mental reaction to this dry spell will be key — he appeared to hesitate before taking several shots Wednesday, earning some audible coaching from Billy Donovan after Dosunmu balked at a 3-point shot and was called for traveling.
6. LaVine is back on his bounce, but his shooting accuracy is still hit-or-miss.
LaVine’s buoyant athleticism seems to be returning after he missed several games in the opening weeks of the season while recovering from a left knee injury. But the guard still isn’t fully back to himself despite a handful of explosive dunks and drives through the paint against the Pelicans.
LaVine’s 3-point shooting is the most glaring absence in his game. He went 4-for-11 from behind the arc against the Pelicans, producing most of his 25 points around the rim.
7. The Bulls are on a three-game losing streak.
The Bulls are now on a three-game losing streak as they sink further in the Eastern Conference standings. This is the first time this season they’ve strung together three of the same results — wins or losses — in a row.
The Bulls face a young, shaky Orlando Magic team Friday, which could provide a strong opportunity to snap the skid, but then face tough matchups against the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks.