The Chicago Bulls will play their regular-season finale on the road, where their reception might be at least a little less hostile.
After being booed off the court in their home finale Friday the Bulls will close out their playoff preparations Sunday in Minneapolis, facing the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It is a matchup between postseason-bound teams who already are locked into their positions regardless of what happens in this game. In the Bulls’ case, though, this is not the time to bask in their playoff status.
Chicago’s 133-117 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday was their fourth-consecutive defeat and provided more evidence that they are nowhere near being the team they were less than two months ago at the All-Star break, when they tied for first place in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s embarrassing,’ the Bulls’ Zach LaVine said of the team’s play, not the fans’ reaction to it. “We’re a really good basketball team, and we’re not playing like it. (The fans) know that. We know that. (Booing) is understandable. We understand that they have our back, but we got to play better.”
At 45-36, the Bulls still managed to wrap up the No. 6 seed in the East, just ahead of play-in tournament duties. The placing in the main playoff field came despite a 6-15 record since Feb. 26.
Defense has been a glaring issue of late with opponents averaging 126.8 points against them over the past five games. The Hornets not only scored 133, they made their first 11 shots Friday.
“They attacked us,” Chicago’s leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (27.9 points) said. “We couldn’t guard them. They had their way.”
Bulls’ defensive-minded guard Alex Caruso (back) did not play Friday and LaVine, who has been dealing with knee soreness, could end up missing Sunday’s game.
The Timberwolves (46-35) have secured the top spot in the Western Conference’s play-in tournament and are in line for a home matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers. It means that Sunday’s game might not have their full attention since their postseason status won’t be affected.
Minnesota made its statement Thursday in a 127-121 victory over another Western Conference play-in team, the San Antonio Spurs. Anthony Edwards scored a career-high 49 in the victory, while Karl-Anthony Towns had 21 points and 13 rebounds.
While the Bulls were hearing disdain from their fans, the crowd in Minnesota was in full roar, trying to will Edwards to a 50-point night. A few late missed shots derailed his chance.
“That’s love,” the 20-year-old Edwards said of the fans. “That’s love, man. I appreciate that for sure.”
Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell missed Thursday’s game with hamstring soreness and he has been ruled out for Sunday due to a non-COVID illness. Guard Patrick Beverley returned after missing the previous two games with right ankle soreness.
“We’re proud of our season,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said. “We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. We won as much as we could. We tried every night. We’ve got a lot of important basketball still yet to play.”
The Bulls won the previous meeting against the Timberwolves, 134-122 at Chicago on Feb. 11. DeRozan led the Bulls with 35 points, while Nikola Vucevic had 26. Edwards had 31 for Minnesota and Towns had 27.
–Field Level Media