Bulls fail to get defensive in final preseason tuneup against Thunder

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K.C. Johnson
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Bulls' defense rests in lethargic preseason finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Don’t let Friday night’s final score fool you.

Yes, the Bulls concluded a 3-1 preseason with a 105-103 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

But remember those 14-2 and 24-9 deficits the Bulls faced early in the first quarter of their preseason opener against Houston? That’s what the first three quarters were like, the ones in which the Thunder outscored the Bulls’ starters and seven-man rotation by 19.

A wrecking ball of a fourth quarter by Simi Shittu can’t erase the lethargic defensive effort and the inconsistent offensive play that coach Billy Donovan acknowledged afterward.

“The challenge for us is the consistency part,” Donovan said. “We just were not consistent to how we need to play.”

That means cutting and movement offensively. That means getting stops defensively and running out in transition. That means closing out on shooters and taking straight-line drives personally.

“We had a lot of short closeouts,” Donovan said. “We did not get out there well enough. There were a couple times that we needed to do what I would call late switch it, where the big is getting dragged to the basket and there’s no chance for him to get back to his man and he calls off the coverage and the guard has got to peel back and take the big. We missed that twice.

“The other night we closed out hard, we had built-in help and we really had a presence at the basket. (Friday), the ball went wherever it wanted to go.”

Sure, the Thunder played Mike Muscala and George Hill after the veterans sat out Wednesday’s loss. But that doesn’t explain the Bulls’ lack of urgency defensively, particularly after Donovan warned his new team at Friday morning’s film session what his old team’s pride would be bringing.

I told them the way they were going to come out and play. And we didn’t respond very well to it,” Donovan said. “They were the aggressor. We were back on our heels. They made it a lot more difficult and harder on us and we didn’t respond to it.”

With lock rotation players Thad Young and Tomáš Satoranský back in Chicago and potential rotation players Garrett Temple and Denzel Valentine yet to practice, use a pencil when analyzing Donovan’s rotations. However, he dropped it basically to seven players in the first half -- with eighth man Ryan Arcidiacono logging just three minutes -- so that he could take an extended look at Lauri Markkanen playing center.

That lineup got burned defensively too.

It's a little bit different than what I've been used to, but I'm getting more comfortable with it,” Markkanen said of playing center. “I think we have to have a better edge throughout the game... We can do a better job as a team to, just everything, closing out. And sometimes they make shots and we just can't put our head down. We gotta go the other way and go right back at them.”

Donovan even tried some zone in the third quarter to try to change the tempo and throw off the Thunder’s offensive rhythm. Donovan said it helped a little.

“Overall, our defense was not great,” he said.

And the next time it appears, for Wednesday's regular-season opener against the Atlanta Hawks, the games count.


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