Bulls strike balance between basketball, atypical schedule, Paris

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Bulls strike balance between basketball, Paris originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

PARIS --- This isn’t a typical road game for the Chicago Bulls. Heck, it’s not a typical home game for the Detroit Pistons.

It’s what flying 4,000 miles and jumping seven hours ahead will do.

“I drank one coffee (Wednesday) and it made me more tired. I’m not really a caffeine guy,” the ever-energetic Alex Caruso said. “I’m finding my way through it.’’

Coach Billy Donovan said he’s been waking up at 3:30 or 4 am daily, unable to fall back asleep.

But it’s not just the sleep patterns. It’s not often a team swings by the Eiffel Tower on their way to practice at Palais des sports Marcel-Cerdan.

“It was good, man,” Caruso said about that experience. “It was just cold. We were out there taking like 20 photos, and we were just popsicles out there waiting for everybody to finish.’’

This week represents both an awesome and unique experience playing in one of the NBA’s rare regular-season international games. But it also represents challenges, particularly for a Bulls team that is trying to play up to its potential over the season’s second half.

On the one hand, the organization encouraged and supported each member of the traveling party bringing a plus-one, whether that be a wife, girlfriend or family member. On the other hand, it’s not a true vacation; it’s a business trip.

“That’s just part of the responsibility of being a professional athlete. If you can’t have fun and then come back and focus, get ready to do your job – this is a job at the end of the day – then you probably shouldn’t be here,” Caruso said. “So for me, it’s a pretty easy situation. Have your fun on the days you can have fun. And then (Thursday) you’re playing a basketball game that counts on our record. So it will be time for business then.’’

But even still, Caruso acknowledged the atypical nature to having just one game over the course of a week. And the Bulls started preparing for the oddity of this schedule by not flying directly after Sunday’s home matinee victory over the Golden State Warriors.

Instead, the team left Chicago past midnight in an attempt to try to start placing players on the new time zone and forcing them to sleep overnight. The Bulls bussed directly from the airport after landing on Monday and participated in a brief practice to get the blood flowing and, in Donovan’s words, have them sweat instead of going right to sleep.

“I thought (Wednesday) was good because we could get back in and really practice. This was a regular practice. There was contact. It was up and down, a lot of defense, a lot of scrimmaging,” Donovan said. “But yeah, you’re coming over here and dealing with a significant time change. Your sleep pattern is totally disrupted.

“There’s a lot to manage for one NBA game. The experience part of it has been great. It’s a great city. They’ve treated us very well. It’s been very accommodating to get from Point A to Point B. . . . But there’s a lot of distractions that we have to deal with and how we handle that is going to be important. So you talk to the guys about getting their rest and the fact that this is not vacation, this is part of our responsibility and our job.”

That means taking care of business against a Pistons team that, at 12-35, is tied for last in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls own several high-profile victories against elite teams this season but also have signature losses against sub-.500 teams.

“We’ve seen this year we can play with the best teams in the league. And I think we are one of the best teams in the league,” Caruso said. “But then handling teams that are .500 or below .500 is sometimes where we slip up. Just make sure we’re prepared and doing the right things and go win basketball games.”

Caruso said while playing only one game in a week feels odd, players are using the time to nurse nagging aches and pains. It’s one benefit to playing an international game.

Another, of course, is representing the NBA in a market that doesn’t see the league in person. And, of course, there’s also the little benefit of being in one of the world’s greatest cities.

“Everybody has friends and family here. Enjoy the sights, see the history and the buildings. But also be prepared to play a basketball game and win,” Zach LaVine said. “We’re used to balancing things. Obviously not in the setting of Paris. But that’s what you do in everyday life. You come to business when you need to and then outside of that, you enjoy your time and the fruits of your labor.

“I’ve been enjoying my time in Paris. I know my wife has, shopping, looking at the sights and drinking wine while we’re here at practice. But we’re excited to play a game.”

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