November 18, 2022, the Chicago Bulls were taking on the Orlando Magic, trying to get going after a slow start to the season. It seemed like a good opportunity to get an easy win against a young team at home.

However, it started badly. The Bulls went down 13 in the first quarter, and the lead ballooned to 19 in the third quarter. Billy Donovan inserted Javonte Green into the game, and the tides turned. The Bulls came all the way back, and held a two point lead in the final 20 seconds of the game.

Zach LaVine was having an off night, so Donovan benched him late, including when the Bulls were going to be fouled to shoot free throws. Maybe it was the right decision, but he probably should have been in for the free throw situation. Instead, Nikola Vucevic was fouled and missed both free throws. The Magic hit a tough contested step-back three to take the lead. The Bulls failed to get  good shot off, and lost, dropping to 6-10.

November 15, 2023, the Chicago Bulls were taking on an improved, but still young Orlando Magic team, while missing DeMar DeRozan due to personal reasons. This game started about as badly as the one a year before; the Bulls scored 12 points in the second quarter and went down 17 points. Again, they woke up in the second half and came back, all the way to Zach LaVine hitting back to back threes to tie the game. Then, the Magic, through former first pick Paolo Banchero, got a fadeaway midrange up (with a little bit of a travel) with a size advantage on Alex Caruso and help arriving too late to take the lead. With one second left and no timeouts, Patrick Williams failed to get a good shot off, and the Bulls dropped to 4-8.

The similarity in those two losses, as well as the fact they occurred 362 days apart, just short of a year, are eerie. Even with the supposed fringe improvements the Bulls made this season, the team so far is the same as last season’s .500 team at best. They lost to young teams that may seem worse but expose the Bulls weaknesses, either shooting the 3 ball, getting destroyed on the glass, occasional failure on defensive rotations, or lacking a point guard. The Magic have been the best example of this, going 4-1 vs the Bulls the last two seasons. The Bulls put themselves in early deficits too often, leading to comebacks that fall just short, or they blow leads against teams they should beat. The team just hasn’t been as clutch as they were in 2021-22, likely due to the lack of a point guard.

Simply, this iteration of the Bulls, especially with Billy Donovan, is too flawed without Lonzo Ball. And while I really do hope the Bulls can bounce back from this poor start, we are getting as close as ever to the writing being on the wall, especially with the recent Zach LaVine trade report. The Bulls may need to blow it up, and Arturas Karnisovas may have to start from scratch, if this team isn’t above .500 by the new year.

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