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Bulls’ championship odds slipping

Photo Credit: TopBet.eu

Photo Credit: TopBet.eu

The Chicago Bulls have been slumping for a month, and things didn’t get any better on against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. The Bulls struggled on both sides of the ball in a 101-90 loss, their third loss in a row and fourth in five games.

Chicago shot just 34.8 percent for the game, and it would have been much uglier if Jimmy Butler didn’t score 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Derrick Rose had 23 points, but he shot just 9-of-22 overall and 2-of-9 from three-point range. 17 of Rose’s 22 shots came outside the paint despite Dwight Howard missing the game with a knee injury, and the point guard only shot four free throws and had two assists.

The Bulls’ defense wasn’t much better, even though the Rockets’ shooting totals were poor. Houston shot just 41.3 percent overall and a wretched 8-of-27 from three, but they missed a handful of easy bunnies at the basket and a bunch of wide open threes. Chicago once again had problems defending the pick-and-roll, with James Harden doing a ton of damage in the second quarter. Harden finished with 27 points, and it would have been more if not for a couple of blown layups.

With the loss, the Bulls fell to 30-20, which is amazingly the same record as the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are on an 11-game winning streak heading into Thursday night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, and Cleveland has gained a ton of ground over the last month. After the Bulls beat the Rockets on Jan. 5 and the Cavaliers lost a stunner to the Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago was 25-10 and Cleveland was 19-16. The Cavaliers went on to lose four more games to fall to 19-20, while the Bulls sat at 26-13. Cleveland hasn’t lost since, and Chicago has gone 4-7.

The Bulls have really missed the presence of starting small forward Mike Dunleavy, one of the team’s best three-point shooters and a solid team defender. With Dunleavy out for much longer than expected because of a bizarre ankle injury, Kirk Hinrich and Tony Snell have been forced to eat up too many minutes. Both players have really struggled, especially shooting the ball from distance, and opposing defenses simply don’t respect them as viable offensive threats. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has tried more Nikola Mirotic at the 3, but Mirotic has hit a wall of late. Fellow rookie Doug McDermott has been glued to the bench since coming back from knee surgery.

While the return of Dunleavy, whenever that may be, will help, there are still some serious problems that need to be worked out for Chicago to be a legitimate title contender. Vegas is starting to lose faith in the Bulls, whose 2015 championship odds are now 10/1, according to Bovada. That’s behind both the Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference. At one point earlier in the year, Chicago had the best odds to win it all.

It would be foolish to completely count out the Bulls, as they still have a lot of talent that could mesh when everybody is healthy. But it’s hard to be optimistic about Chicago’s chances given how they look at the moment.




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