Re-Establishing that Underdog Mentality, Ayo Dosunmu is Confident, Learning Lessons, and Other Bulls Bullets

Can anyone give me the number of a good optometrist?

We’re two days away from the Chicago Bulls’ first playoff action in five years, and I can’t stop Seeing Red. I should really get this checked out. 

•   Perhaps my excitement about the upcoming first-round series will be crushed by a comedically large anvil on Sunday night. I accept that. But as Game 1 inches closer and closer, I do find myself increasingly enthusiastic about watching the Bulls in the playoffs again. No, I don’t expect them to pull off a franchise-propelling first-round upset, but I am hopeful this group will play closer to their midseason self than their late-season self. While momentum may not be on their side, I do think the narrative could be. No one expects the Bulls to put together a competitive series, but no one expected them to become the East’s No. 1 seed halfway through the year either.

•   This seemed to be a unit that thrived on being considered the underdog. I could be foolish for putting any weight into that philosophy, but I do think those things tend to matter in sports. They’ve got a whole week to shake off their end-of-year rust and marinate in the fact that almost nobody believes in them. Does that suggest they will come out and shock the world? Probably not. Can it be enough to make them play their butt off and at least provide fans with a memorable first-round effort? I think so, and Ayo Dosunmu seems to agree.

•   To be honest, I do believe what Dosunmu is saying. Guys like him, Coby White, Patrick Williams, and even Zach LaVine have never experienced playoff basketball before. They have nothing to base their expectations on, so why have any at all? As for guys like DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, those are two All-Star caliber players who understand anything can happen when the records fall back to 0-0. At the end of the day, I don’t expect the Bulls to say anything other than what Dosunmu said regardless, but I do genuinely think they believe they are capable of pulling this one out. This belief in a squad many first doubted is what got them here in the first place.

•   So I might also be clinging to intangibles largely because of how bad everything tangible has been as of late. The Bulls will head into the playoffs with easily the worst Net Rating of any team over the last 15 games of the regular season. The next closest locked-in playoff team – believe it or not – is the Milwaukee Bucks with a -0.2 that sits 19th in the NBA. Still, the Bucks were able to at least go 9-6 over that stretch, while the Bulls were a more concerning 5-10.

•   If the Bulls can play similar to the way they did in Game 2 of this season series, I’ll be pretty content no matter how many games this thing goes. I rewatched that performance last night, and it was just an awesome display of hustle, athleticism, and two-way effort. The Bulls kept things tight practically all the way through with a 50.0 percent shooting effort from the field. The ball kept moving as the team’s trio of stars combined for a strong 78-point performance. Even better, it was a jolt from supporting cast members like Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White, and Derrick Jones Jr. that helped Chicago go on a 13-5 run and gain an 88-81 advantage heading into the final frame.

•   Of course, the team went on to lose that contest by six points, but they still put themselves in a position to win with only seconds remaining. If I’m head coach Billy Donovan, this is the game I’m highlighting behind the scenes. While part of the reason the Bulls lost that game is due to Jrue Holiday’s extremely difficult shot-making, it was also due to a number of self-inflicted wounds. The team allowed seven offensive rebounds in the 4th quarter and allowed the Bucks to shoot 12 free-throw attempts to their 3. Not to mention, the shot selection down the stretch could have been a whole lot better. Great teams like the Bucks are going to be able to close, but the Bulls made it way too easy for them to get back into the game. If they could have played with the same discipline and execution we saw for 3 quarters, they very well could have won.

•   FWIW: The second game in this regular-season series also happened to be the only game where the Bulls’ bench outscored the Bucks’ bench. While the rotations are going to shrink, the supporting cast members will have to bring their A-game to keep the Bulls in it.

•   GETTING READY.

•   You betcha!

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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