Billy Donovan Needs to Find Some Answers, Missing DeMar, Needing More Vuc, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Billy Donovan Needs to Find Some Answers, Missing DeMar, Needing More Vuc, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

Dropping five-straight? A scare in Detroit? Losing to the Sacramento Kings? Getting destroyed in the 4th quarter by the New Orleans Pelicans?

A wake-up call to the Chicago Bulls’ hotel room has quickly turned into relentless pounding on the door. We’ve all been waiting for the team to check out of this now month-long slump, but all they’ve done is continue to roll over and seemingly accept the harsh reality.

If I have to be honest, I’m not sure where we go from here.

•   There is still time for the Bulls’ to flip the script. They can start this process with a much-needed win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday to gain the tiebreaker advantage over both them and the Toronto Raptors. Then – after a trip to the place where no one vacations – they’ll head further East for meetings with two teams that remain out of the Play-In Tournament picture (Knicks and Wizards). All things considered, that’s a favorable schedule that should allow for the team to course-correct and lock in their first playoff series since the 2016-17 season. But we also just watched them lose to a Brandon Ingram-less New Orleans Pelicans team. So who knows if what “should” happen “will” happen.

•   We can stand inside the Bulls locker room and point fingers in almost any direction, and that includes head coach Billy Donovan. Before I continue, let me be clear: Donovan’s seat isn’t hot. It isn’t even lukewarm. Reactionary fans will call for his head, but the fact of the matter is he remains a vital part of where this organization is headed. His level-headed and player-friendly approach was one of the main reasons this team was able to get off the ground in the way they did this season. He has legitimately been in the Coach of the Year conversation for a reason, and I remain high on his potential in Chicago. With that said, it’s largely his job to figure out how to stop this talented team from spiraling.

•   Since February it feels like we’ve been talking about the growing presence of self-inflicted wounds. The Bulls have lost a number of games due to free-throw discrepancy and rebounding problems. Both categories came into play last night, with the Bulls allowing a season-high 34 free-throw attempts to the Pelicans and losing the offensive-rebounding battle 10-4. Donovan mentioned both as silent killers during his press conference, particularly harping on the fouling:

“Some of the fouls we had, they’re just unnecessary. They’re unnecessary fouls. We’re running into people. Just put your hands up, [no] slapping down when you got an opportunity to maybe make the guy finish a shot, just maybe compose your carelessness. Those things I think really really impacted us.”

•   I want to provide readers with a way to solve this issue, but isn’t that kind of Donovan’s job? That’s why one of my 10 fingers is pointed at his chest right now. The more we talk about the same old issues, the more I wonder what’s being talked about behind the scenes. The coaching staff has to find a better way to put this group in a position to avoid some of these silly mistakes.

•   My gut tells me Zach LaVine also shouldn’t have played that long and Nikola Vucevic should have played longer. LaVine gave it everything he got on a bum knee in 40 minutes, and the fact it amounted to nothing is absolutely brutal. I worry now the Bulls may have gotten the LaVine performance they needed one game too early. Will his knee feel as good as it did last night for tomorrow’s must-win matchup? One can only hope.

•   As for Vucevic, why did he play only 32 minutes in a game where DeMar DeRozan played none? And don’t say because of his defense or poor play. The fact of the matter is the Bulls needed Vucevic last night, and he played his butt off in the first half with 14 points. He finished the night 7-11 from the field against a Pelicans defense that had few answers for him. His 11 shot attempts tied his 4th-fewest in a game this season, though, which is just unacceptable when we – again – consider DeRozan’s absence. Donovan admitted he should have brought him back a bit earlier in the second half, and he also said the guards needed to do a better job of feeding him. Hindsight is 20/20. These are the in-game adjustments that have to be made.

•   The Bulls’ fourth-quarter disintegration last night made me sit in a dark room. I didn’t even finish the final few minutes of that game as I ventured into my office to quickly write up a brief and angry Enhanced Box Score. If allowing an undrafted free agent rookie in Jose Alvarado to score 13 points in the final frame is a gut-punch, being outscored by the Pelicans bottom-third offense 40-24 is a “Finish Him” move from Mortal Combat.  No one can deny not having one of the most clutch players in the game makes things more difficult, but DeMar DeRozan shouldn’t mean that much to the team’s late-game stability. I think what last night demonstrated is the Bulls rely far too heavily on DeRozan’s calm hand. They have to build confidence that they can get the job done when he’s off the floor, especially as the playoffs arrive. Teams will undoubtedly send the house at DeRozan in the 4th quarter defensively, and it will remain up to the rest of the closing lineup to take advantage.

•   At least we got these highlights, right?


•   We get our first look at the Cubs’ new stud today!

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Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.