Bulls can't find a finisher and lose to Lakers
The Bulls added a player from Finland in rookie Lauri Markkanen. Now they need a player who can get them to the finish line.
Point guard Kris Dunn has done a nice job of scoring down the stretch this season, but he's out with a concussion, leaving the job vacant. There were plenty of applicants on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers but none of them got the job done.
The Lakers outscored the Bulls 16-8 over the last four minutes and pulled out a 108-103 victory at the United Center. If it's any consolation, the Bulls (18-31) moved behind the Lakers (19-29) in the standings, which could mean a higher draft pick in June.
The preferred candidate for the closer job is Zach LaVine, the centerpiece of last summer's Jimmy Butler. But in his seventh game back from knee surgery, LaVine hit just 3 of 17 shots from the field. He played just under 26 minutes and was on the court for the final 2:59.
"We're still adjusting," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We're without Kris Dunn and we're trying to get Zach integrated as well.
"Zach's got good days ahead. He's been terrific in practice and he's had a couple really good first games. He's still trying to get his rhythm out there, but that will come."
The Bulls took a 95-92 lead with 4:09 left when Nikola Mirotic waited for Larry Nance Jr. to fly by, then calmly knocked down a tiebreaking 3-pointer.
After missing a couple chances to extend the lead, the Bulls gave it up, then went back ahead 97-96 on a pair of Mirotic free throws with 2:46 left. The Bulls forced a miss, but Lauri Markkanen lost the ball in the post to Julius Randle, the Lakers pushed it downcourt and Randle finished a 3-point play to take the lead for good.
Trailing by 4, LaVine missed a pair of free throws, then appeared to get fouled on a drive to the basket. There was no whistle, Markkanen couldn't finish a follow slam attempt and the Lakers put the game away at the foul line.
"I felt good, I just missed a ton of easy shots," LaVine said. "That's how it goes sometimes. I've got to be better. Tonight I stunk. I can handle a lot of that. I've got to be better.
"I know it's a process with it, but it gets frustrating at times. You want to smooth it out."
Since his return, LaVine has averaged 13.6 points and shot 38.6 percent from the field. The Bulls shot well from long range on Friday, hitting 17 of 36 attempts from 3-point land, but they were just 15 of 39 in the paint.
"We didn't finish at the rim," Hoiberg said. "I thought Zach got to the rim on several occasions and he's an elite finisher in his brief career to this point. As he gets his legs under him, he will finish those. I'm confident with that."
The Bulls got off to another slow start, falling behind 32-17 in the first quarter. The reserves brought them back, but the Lakers went ahead 89-76 with 10:38 remaining.
Mirotic led the Bulls with 18 points and hit consecutive 3-pointers to begin the comeback. Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine added 16 points each, which meant the Bulls' top three scorers all came off the bench. Valentine and Markkanen grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds. Second-year forward Brandon Ingram led the Lakers with 25 points.
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