Bulls guard Zach LaVine discusses the team's "sorry" starts the last few games following a loss to the Trail Blazers on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018. (K.C. Johnson/Chicago Tribune)
The Bulls didn’t have Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen or Nikola Mirotic.
The Trail Blazers had C.J. McCollum.
And for one quarter, that was enough.
Heck, McCollum needed only three to score his career-high 50 points.
McCollum set a Trail Blazers franchise record and Bulls’ opponent franchise mark with a 28-point first quarter, outscoring the Bulls by nine by himself in the opening period. The Bulls’ 24-point deficit after one quarter tied another franchise low point, and they ultimately lost their fifth straight, 124-108 at Moda Center.
McCollum’s career-best night marked the first time a Bulls opponent scored 50 or more points since the Bucks’ Michael Redd did so in March 2007.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are just three games clear of the league’s worst record.
“The last two or three games, we’ve been sorry in the first quarter. And that’s where it all has started,” Zach LaVine said. “We have to find something to fix it.
“Having guys out shouldn’t matter. We’re all professional players. We can’t get down 20 points or give up 40 points in the first quarter like that. You can count all the factors but the guys we have are more than capable of doing the job.”
Between Derrick Rose’s torn meniscus here in 2013 and several blowout losses over the years, this place has been a house of horrors. A 23-2 deficit that forced coach Fred Hoiberg to burn two early timeouts and McCollum’s transcendent performance added another chapter.
“We’re not aggressive. Teams are getting whatever they want in the first quarter and see it’s soft out there,” LaVine said. “And then we’re coming down on offense and it’s stagnant. We get back in the game once we get punched. We throw a couple back. But it’s too late.”
In the first quarter alone, McCollum sank 11 of 14 shots, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He finished 18-for-25 including 6-for-9 from 3-point range and sank all eight of his free throws in 29 minutes.
“He’s pretty relentless,” Denzel Valentine said. “I saw the look in his eye. When he got it going, it looked like he wanted the ball on every possession. He has the 3-ball, mid-range, floater and he can get to the basket. When a player like that gets going, it’s pretty tough to guard. But our starts are killing us.”
Asked how it felt to see McCollum go off like that, LaVine said “it’s terrible.”
LaVine snapped out of his slump that featured 5-for-28 shooting the last two games with a season-high 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 22 minutes. With the blowout, he didn’t take his fourth-quarter rotational turn.
“I felt good,” LaVine said. “But it’s not about how I perform. It’s about that ‘W’ or ‘L.’ As a collective group, we have to do a lot better.”
With Markkanen in Chicago for personal reasons and Mirotic at the team hotel as the Bulls try to negotiate trades for him, Hoiberg started Paul Zipser to reward him for strong recent practices. The experiment lasted 4 minutes, 35 seconds.
Hoiberg didn’t play Zipser the remainder of the first half and then started Bobby Portis for the third quarter. Zipser didn’t return until the 3:25 mark of the third.
The Bulls closed the game with a lineup of Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Zipser, Quincy Pondexter and Cristiano Felicio. The ping-pong ball chase is on again.