Bulls' skid hits 3 games as inconsistency, lack of focus continues

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Bulls' skid hits 3 games as inconsistency continues originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

At the Chicago Bulls’ Friday morning shootaround, Zach LaVine mentioned how the Oklahoma City Thunder “don’t stop” and always keep coming at teams.

Eight hours later and just 3 seconds after the opening tipoff, Lu Dort stood at the free-throw line, having corralled a loose ball and attacked Ayo Dosunmu at the rim for a foul.

The Thunder weren’t done either. In yet another listless defensive performance at home by the Bulls, they attacked their way to 64 points in the paint in a 124-110 victory.

“They were straight-line driving us,” coach Billy Donovan said. “We knew going in they’re a hard-driving team. We just were unable to stop a little bit shorter and guard the ball one-on-one. They’re coming to you. And we were beat so much off the dribble.”

The Bulls lost their third straight, dropped out of the play-in picture and fell to 0-2 without DeMar DeRozan, who sat again with his sore right quad.

The Thunder were finishing a back-to-back set of games but looked like the fresher team throughout. They scored an opponent-season-high 72 first-half points, broke 30 points in three of the four quarters and generally got to wherever they wanted to get offensively.

Donovan also cited allowing three early offensive rebounds early in the first quarter, pointing out that the team had made improving in this area a focal point.

“Just gotta have more attention to detail,” Donovan said. “We got back into it, but we do things that break momentum and are self-inflicted wounds.”

That the Bulls continue to play with such inconsistency and fail to execute pregame focal points led to Donovan fielding a question about whether his message is getting through to players.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily about getting a message as much as it is we’ve got to compete at a much higher level. And we’ve showed signs of doing it really well and looked good while doing it,” he said. “But we have to sustain it.

“The one thing you have to be careful of is you can be in a situation where you make all these schematic changes and be good at nothing. I believe we can guard the ball better. Are they getting the message? Yes. But there’s a difference between getting the message and going out there and executing it over the course of the game.”

That’s the disconnect that has led the Bulls back to spinning their wheels. Whatever momentum created by their recent 8-3 stretch has ceded to their three-game skid. The first loss was a competitive, one-possession game to the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics. The last two---to the shorthanded Wizards and to the schedule-challenged Thunder at home---are troubling.

Donovan pointed to Alex Caruso stepping up at halftime and taking accountability with his teammates for needing to guard better personally in the second half as a sign that the team is all in the fight together. LaVine brushed aside a question about whether the team still believes it can right matters.

“Of course,” he said.

But the same inconsistencies keep rearing their ugly head.

“Can’t give up paint (points), free throws and 3s. We have good spurts but not a full concentrated effort (defensively),” Caruso said. “Just basics. Being in the gaps. Rotating the low man. Scrambling out and then boxing out.”

LaVine also created a minor stir by casually answering a question about his career-high 15 free-throw attempts by making light of his 5-for-19 shooting performance and tying them to a right hand contusion that landed him on the injury report.

“You drive the ball when you can’t shoot,” LaVine said. “That’s what happens when you have a torn ligament.”

The team public relations staff later clarified that LaVine doesn’t have a torn ligament in his hand. At the morning shootaround, LaVine, who was listed as probable on the injury report, called his right hand contusion “just normal basketball stuff” and a “jammed finger.”

LaVine, who didn’t play with tape or a splint on his right hand, did say the injury was “sore.”

There’s plenty of hurt around the Bulls these days.

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