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“You must be a desperate team” – The Mercury News

The Chicago Bulls needed a win.

There were too many reasons they couldn’t afford a loss to the Boston Celtics on Monday night – including a four-game slippage punctuated by a punchline, last-minute loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday. and the looming challenge of a six-game trip against majority winning teams.

A 121-107 win over the Celtics at United Center provided everything the Bulls needed. A confidence boost for third-year starter Patrick Williams, who scored a season-high 17 points as he confidently faced elite defensemen one-on-one. Reassurance for guard Zach LaVine, who scored 22 points and dropped three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter after being benched for the final minutes of the loss to the Magic. A reminder that DeMar DeRozan — who went 3-for-3 from behind the arc and scored a team-high 28 points — can command a game against the best in the East.

More importantly, the win reignited the team’s momentum ahead of the toughest challenge of the season so far.

“These guys are competitive guys. They’re proud, they work hard and they want to win,” said coach Billy Donovan. “Tonight we were better. There are still things we can improve on, but I thought tonight we had a next game mentality.

After Monday’s much-needed victory, the Bulls face a turning point. It might sound melodramatic – after all, it’s only a month into the season. There are over 60 games left, which might seem like a long time to overturn a 7-10 record.

But the six-game trip kicks off one of the most difficult periods of the season. The Bulls are slightly better at home than away this season (5-5 at United Center, 2-5 in enemy territory).

Regardless of venue, the next three weeks will be a challenge with seven of nine opponents currently above .500. And one of the two outliers is the Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champions who can still topple any team.

The four-game skid quickly plunged the Bulls into the bottom third of the Eastern Conference. If they can’t start producing solutions within the next three weeks, they could slide even further into an early collapse that may be impossible to shake.

“There’s a sense of urgency when you lose a game,” LaVine said. “We all have this sense of urgency, individually and collectively as a team. You must have this. You have to be a desperate team when you go out and play and get those wins.

“The games are not going to stop. We will have to continue to play against these top teams. We have to move it forward.

LaVine’s bench in the final minutes of Friday’s loss to the Magic highlighted the delicate balance the Bulls must strike to keep their big three – LaVine, DeRozan and Nikola Vučević – at the higher level needed to start again. to win.

Donovan made it clear the line wasn’t doing enough, especially in the first quarter. All three are scoring at a lower rate than last season (61.7 combined points per game entering Monday, down from 69.9), and only DeRozan is shooting higher percentage as LaVine struggles to regain his athleticism. after off-season knee surgery.

But Donovan said the trio’s burden of leading a turnover over the next three weeks falls most heavily on the ball, where he criticized their defensive effort – also particularly in the first quarter.

“When the shots are distributed at the end of the year, I’m guessing Zach, DeMar and Vooch are going to take more shots than anyone on our team,” Donovan said. “It will not necessarily be democratic offensively. Generally, these guys will get more hits than anyone else.

“But we can’t be good (if) that takes the blame off those guys who have to back up in transition or keep in the pick-and-roll. Everyone has an equal share in this. »

It’s clear the Bulls can’t win on the shoulders of their stars alone. Donovan entered the season insisting that the team’s adjusted offense would place less emphasis on the “hero ball” and spread the ball more. Yet a month into the season, the Bulls’ offense ranks in the bottom third of the league, often forcing DeRozan to attempt a late-game bailout that falls just short.

As the Bulls head into the next gauntlet of road games, the challenge is clear — figuring out how to make this new offense work or face a long road back to .500.

“We’re trying to find it,” LaVine said. “When we’re down in games or trying to come back from behind, we’re fighting for our lives and that’s when we look good. We’re aggressive on both sides, we take the hits we’ve got. need, we get stops.

“It’s frustrating trying to catch that rhythm. That’s what we’re trying to do.


California Daily Newspapers

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