Watching the Chicago Bulls bench veterans and change lineups every five games, it’s easy to get the impression their top priority is to lose games.
Coach Fred Hoiberg offered another opinion Tuesday.
Bulls game day
Bulls vs. Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center, 7 p.m. Wednesday
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Grizzlies (18-45) are winning the race for the NBA’s worst record and will carry a 14-game losing streak into this contest. Memphis put tanking on the front burner after losing PG Mike Conley for the season with a heel injury in November. Top scorer Tyreke Evans has missed the last six games with a rib issue and C Marc Gasol has taken occasional nights off to rest. So the Grizzlies won’t have many recognizable names in the lineup. Chicago native Myke Henry, who played at Illinois and DePaul, has been getting minutes off the bench. This is the first meeting between these teams this season.
Next: Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena, 6 p.m. Friday
— Mike McGraw
“What we’re really searching for is who is going to emerge as the leader of this group, especially with Robin (Lopez) and Justin (Holiday) not playing a lot right now,” he said before practice at the Advocate Center. “That’s a big part of this. Who is going to emerge as a leader and get us through these tough times?
“We’re still searching for that.”
Several hours had passed, but Hoiberg still seemed angered by Monday’s 105-89 loss to Boston, which wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The Celtics seemed to make a pact not to lose to the Bulls for the second time without Kyrie Irving and raced to an early 26-5 lead.
Point guard Kris Dunn talked about trying to avoid getting frustrated by the circumstances. The Bulls added Bobby Portis to the starting lineup Monday, the Celtics attacked the basket aggressively in the first quarter, and the Bulls fell apart quickly.
“These next 19 are going to be tough,” Dunn said. “Lineups are changing, it’s hard to adjust, but you’ve got to try to figure a way out. I think we’re going to do that. I think everybody’s positive still. No one dropped their head yet, and I think that’s a good thing.”
If the final stretch of the season is about trying to become more of a leader, Dunn is willing, though he has said his initial instincts are to establish himself for a longer period before telling others what they should be doing.
Dunn is in his second NBA season, first with the Bulls, and has played in just seven games since missing a month with a concussion. So he has plenty to worry about already.
Then again, he is the point guard and this will be his team for the foreseeable future, so it will fall on his shoulders to be a leader.
“I’m big on showing your game and then try to be a vocal leader, but they want me to try to be both,” Dunn said. “It’s tough. Especially my first year as a Bull, I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. But I think I’ve got to, these next 19 games, try to figure it out for the group and try to be that leader.”
Hoiberg talked about how Denzel Valentine was the only Bulls player who stepped forward and tried to slow down Boston’s blowout Monday. Valentine scored 20 points, but nothing else went well for the Bulls until a lineup of reserves made up some ground in fourth-quarter garbage time.
Hoiberg’s message in recent weeks has been regardless of the lineup or outcome, the Bulls still can take the floor and give a better effort than their opponent.
“It was painful to watch that game,” Hoiberg said. “Somebody has got to take the ownership and be the leader and pull guys together when things aren’t going well. We had none of that last night. I thought that was as poorly as we played all year.”
The vibe should be much different when Memphis visits Wednesday. The Grizzlies have lost 14 games in a row and lead the tight race for the NBA’s worst record. The Bulls aren’t much better, dropping 14 of 17 since Jan. 22.
The Bulls’ slide began a few days after Dunn suffered the concussion against Golden State. From Dec. 8 to Jan. 15, they went 14-7.
“Basketball is all about flow and rhythm and chemistry,” Dunn said. “When you have those three things, things work out smoothly. I don’t think after the all-star break we’ve had flow or rhythm.
“I don’t know if that’s the lineup changing consistently. But I know one thing I’m trying to do these next 19 games is try to get the flow and the rhythm back for the team.”
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.