Losing by 1 point on consecutive nights provides plenty of fodder for regret.
One example for the Bulls against Sacramento on Friday came when they needed a defensive stop trailing by 2 and got it, but Zach Randolph caught teammate Bogdan Bogdanovich’s airball 3-pointer and put it in to give the Kings a 103-99 lead with 51.5 seconds left.
Eventually, the Bulls lost 107-106 at the United Center, a game that ended with Jerian Grant draining a too little, too late 3-pointer. Grant led the way with 17 points and the Bulls set a season-high with 30 assists.
But coming on the heels of a last-second, 1-point loss at Denver on Thursday, the Bulls know they’re walking a fine line between encouraging and demoralizing.
“It’s tough. It’s real tough,” Grant said. “Coach is keeping our spirits up, telling us to keep our heads up. We were right there two days in a row. It could be two wins with one basket, one change. It’s tough but we’re hanging in there because we can see we’re right there.”
The Bulls stretched their losing streak to eight in a row as their NBA-worst record dropped to 3-18.
Coach Fred Hoiberg talked about his team needing to get tougher defensively to get stops late in the game. But Friday’s game featured a variety of last-minuter mishaps.
The Bulls did get some stops and failed to score three times in a row while trailing by 2. First, rookie Lauri Markkanen missed a tough pullup bank over Sacramento center Willie Cauley-Stein. Then Justin Holiday’s open 3-pointer rimmed out and Markkanen missed a 3-pointer he may have tossed up too quickly.
“Right now, the way I look at our team, the last few games, we found a little bit of a rhythm on the offensive end, especially first halves,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing is to keep taking positive steps, I thought we really competed, especially (Thursday) night (in Denver).”
After Randolph’s putback basket, Robin Lopez hit a jumper to bring the Bulls within 2 with 43 seconds left. Needing another stop, the Bulls got mismatched on defense, ended up triple-teaming Cauley-Stein and he found a cutting De’Aaron Fox for a lay in.
“I’ve been on losing teams in my professional career. Not to say I’m used to it, but I do know you have to be positive through that time,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a learning curve for the young guys to go through that. Unfortunately, going through losing can be something valuable for you later. We’re growing together.”
The Bulls got a boost from guard David Nwaba, who played for the first time since spraining his right ankle on Nov. 4 and scored 9 points. But forward Bobby Portis was a late scratch due to a right arm injury. Hoiberg said Portis thought he’d be ready to go, but decided it was too sore during warmups.
“Bobby, he’s got a contusion on his right upper arm,” Hoiberg said. “He got popped. You could see it. He said he could hardly feel his arm, so he’s got a lot of soreness. He’s got a big egg, basically, in his upper arm. Hopefully with a couple of days off, the swelling goes down and he’s ready to go on Monday.”
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