By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bulls center Robin Lopez sat at his locker dejectedly late Saturday night. In a season that’s sure to be full of losses, this 96-90 overtime setback to the Pelicans at the United Center was on him, Lopez explained, and so he told his teammates that.
“My guys, my teammates, they played such a battle,” Lopez said. “They fought their a**** off. They put me in situations to succeed, and I didn’t execute. So that’s frustrating.”
Teammates and a box score showing the Bulls’ 35.4 percent shooting wholeheartedly rejected Lopez taking fault, but he did find himself front and center in several of the game’s biggest spots. With just under 10 seconds left in regulation with the score tied, he missed a point-blank look off a good find by Jerian Grant and then a putback layup attempt. After a Pelicans miss and Bulls timeout, Lopez then couldn’t get a clean shot attempt off on a lob pass with two seconds left.
That final play of regulation was reflective of the Bulls’ lack of execution late. Lopez missed setting a downscreen on a Pelicans defender that was intended to get Denzel Valentine open, leaving the New Orleans defense with no difficult decision to make and and easy collapse onto Lopez.
“It’s going to be a process, it’s going to take time,” said Justin Holiday, who scored a team-high 18 points as the Bulls dropped to 2-6.
It was a week prior that coach Fred Hoiberg took his Bulls to task for a lackadaisical approach in a blowout loss to the Thunder. On Saturday night, he took the unusual step of starting his postgame press conference with a statement instead of taking a question because he wanted to praise the Bulls’ effort.
It involved Lopez making life difficult on DeMarcus Cousins (25 points on 6-of-20 shooting) and a small Bulls rally after being down 77-71 with less than six minutes to play. It also featured Jerian Grant gaining ground in the point guard competition. As Kris Dunn struggled with 2-of-9 shooting and four turnovers in 17 minutes, Grant had 13 points, eight rebounds and nine assists with no turnovers.
“I got into a little bit of a rhythm,” Grant said. “I was able to push the ball, find my teammates. I think if I continue to do that, we can win some games and be in games with teams like that.”
The Bulls’ trouble Saturday was their poor shooting, which included an 11-of-42 showing from 3-point range. They entered the evening last in the NBA in field-goal percentage by a large margin. They’ll remain there when they awake Sunday, which also marks the end of Bobby Portis’ suspension for punching teammates Nikola Mirotic.
Portis will be eligible to play when Chicago plays at Toronto on Tuesday. All Hoiberg would confirm is that rookie Lauri Markkanen will remain the starting power forward, adding “we’ll see” when asked if Portis will play. Bulls teammates are operating under the assumption Portis will play.
“The thing about Bobby is, Bobby is a competitor,” Holiday said. “He’s going to come in and do what he has to do. I don’t think there’s much we have to tell Bobby. He’s itching to play.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.