The clock has struck midnight and the Chicago Bulls 2021-22 Cinderella season has turned into a pumpkin at the halfway point. It started with their big Wednesday night matchup last week against the Brooklyn Nets who, at the time, had all three of their stars on the court. After a competitive first half to that game, with the Bulls trailing 62-60 at intermission, their season went south.
The Bulls have lost four consecutive games, after not losing more than two in a row at any point this season. Of those defeats, three came at the hands of some of the league’s best teams: the Nets, the Warriors, and the Grizzlies. Monday’s 119-106 loss to Memphis wasn’t nearly as bad as the poundings they suffered at home against the Nets and Warriors, but it was clear in the second half that the Grizzlies had that game under control.
The Bulls’ defensive rating has fallen to 20th. This team, once the belle of the ball as a surprise No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, is now running around wearing one glass slipper with four of their next six games on the road. There is also a dangerous, healthy, Miami Heat team now tied with them atop the conference while the Nets will be without Kevin Durant until after the All-Star break.
Injury is a problem the Bulls and the Nets have in common, but for the Bulls it goes much deeper than missing one of their star players. Zach LaVine went down against the Warriors with a knee injury that is going to cost him some time, but while he’s the most notable name on the Bulls’ injury list, he’s far from the only one. Until this team gets healthy, the Bulls are going to be stuck in that part of the fairy tale where all appears to be lost.
When LaVine got hurt, the Bulls were already down two key players: Javonte Green, who has filled in admirably as a starter this season, has missed the Bulls’ last nine games with a groin injury, and their defensive stopper off of the bench, Alex Caruso, has missed the last 13 games with a foot injury and time spent in health safety protocols.
Along with LaVine, the Bulls also lost Derrick Jones Jr. and Lonzo Ball to injury last week. Jones got hurt in the first minute of the Nets’ loss, and Ball hasn’t played since the Warriors’ loss due to knee soreness. Against the Grizzlies on Monday, the Bulls were missing five players from their rotation — six if you count Patrick Williams who hasn’t played since October — and it’s as if the Bulls are dealing with their COVID outbreak all over again, except this time the rest of the NBA isn’t alongside them trying to put a roster together with safety scissors and a glue stick.
Caruso is supposed to make his return on Wednesday when the Bulls take on the Cleveland Cavaliers — another of the eight teams in the NBA with at least a .600 winning percentage. Following that game, the Bulls hit the road to take on the defending NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks. That still leaves them without three starters, and two players that have filled in that role admirably. If the Bulls are going to need key minutes from Alfonzo McKinnie from now until the all-star break, their pumpkin might look pretty ripe come late February.
At least the Bulls know their other glass slipper is coming back, it’s just a matter of when, especially with Ball and LaVine. Right now, the Bulls don’t have the talent on their roster to maintain their status as one of the best teams in the NBA, and this talent drain from injury arrived during one of the most difficult periods in their schedule. With the top-six teams in the Eastern Conference only separated by 2.5 games, the Bulls had better find to manufacture some wins while they wait for their injured players to bring the other slipper, or they could find themselves a smashed pumpkin come playoff time.