Billy Donovan: Bulls defense has 'long way to go' after Pelicans loss

Donovan: Bulls D has 'long way to go' after Pelicans loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Yes, it's only preseason. And the preseason opener, at that.

But if it were up to Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, his team would not have allowed 40 points and 69.6 percent shooting to the New Orleans Pelicans in Tuesday's eventual 129-125 loss.

As Donovan put it minutes after the final buzzer:

"We've got a long way to go defensively, There's no question about that."

In a familiar refrain, Donovan zoomed in on the Bulls' pick-and-roll defense as a pain point. The guards, he said, must do a better job of navigating screens, while the big men need to present themselves better on the back end. Their weak-side awareness lacked, too.

The Pelicans, to their credit, took full advantage of the Bulls' deficiencies, piling on 70 points on 60.5 percent shooting in the first half, including 32 points in the paint and 24 (8-for-17) from behind the 3-point arc, before the benches emptied midway through the third quarter.

Worse, in Donovan's view, the Bulls' inability to manufacture stops bled immediately on to the other end of the floor, where the Bulls' free-flowing point of offensive emphasis got off to a clunky start. The first quarter saw them cough up twice as many turnovers (eight) as assists (four) and bog down in the face of up-court pressure and a set New Orleans defense.

"We were really slow," Donovan said. "I think that they shot 70 percent in the first quarter. It's hard to play fast (without getting stops). And I thought their guards picked us up full-court and made it hard.

"Even when we got into the halfcourt our pace and our tempo and the way we cut and moved didn't give us any flow at all."

It's a reminder that no matter how much the Bulls emphasis pace or ball and player movement at the offensive end, it all starts with defense. That is how, led by Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, the Bulls established the identity at the beginning of last season that propelled them to the top of the Eastern Conference.

"We kind of were just going through the motions, which is a little disappointing," Caruso said of the Bulls' defense after the game. "It's preseason so it's hard to put too much weight into it. But that is something we talked about at halftime. As a group in general, that's the identity we want moving forward: We want to play harder than everybody."

But with Ball sidelined indefinitely and with a largely-returned group from the one that finished last season 20th in defense (26th after Ball went down), they will need to prove their mettle before it can be assumed.

"The hardest thing to do in team sports is create an identity," Donovan said. "If you don't work, and try to take ownership in the identity and responsibility and ownership, an identity will be created. It doesn't make a difference, an identity will be created. It's whether or not it's the one you've gotta create. And the one you've gotta create is a lot of work."

And so, the work begins for the Bulls.

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