Bulls flex defensive skills, improve to 3-0

Three games into the season, it's obvious the Bulls have not played the NBA's most difficult schedule.

Also, they are susceptible to giving up high percentage shots near the rim because they have a small front line.

But with all that being true, they have taken care of business, improving to 3-0 with their second win over Detroit in four days, a 97-82 decision on Saturday at the United Center.

Somehow, even with the height issues, the Bulls are showing signs of being a strong defensive team. Coach Billy Donovan had an interesting take on that topic after the game.

"Offense is always more difficult," Donovan said. "I think sometimes people think you throw these scorers in there and they're just going to score. It never works that way. It takes time to get guys to gel and mesh when they've been the featured guy for so long."

The Bulls have three players who averaged more than 20 points per game last season in Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and center Nikola Vucevic. LaVine had a quiet night Saturday with 14 points, while DeRozan scored 21 and Vucevic piled up 15 points and 19 rebounds.

Donovan compared that group to his Oklahoma City days when he had Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony on the same squad.

"If the group is committed to work defensively, to get over screens, to help each other, to rotate, to scramble - the defense to me always come a lot easier," Donovan said. "I feel confident with how smart these guys are, we'll continue to get better."

Rim protection did show up on the stat sheet. The Bulls were credited with 11 blocks and the highlight of the game might have been when Ayo Dosunmu and Lonzo Ball blocked shots on the same possession. Ball snuffed a dunk attempt at the rim by Detroit center Isaiah Stewart. Ball was credited with 4 blocked shots, while Vucevic had 3.

The Pistons went right at Vucevic on the game's first two possessions. They jumped to a 9-0 lead and built a 34-22 edge in points in the paint during the first half.

"I thought Vuc did a really good job adjusting in the second half, of being up a little higher and making it a little more difficult," Donovan said. "We had a lot more resistance. We were able to kind of get over some screens and get back on the ball. I was really impressed with our defense and what we were able to do."

The Bulls' advantage peaked at 89-58 with 8:25 left, then Pistons went on 17-0 run, giving Donovan an excuse to play the starters deep into the fourth quarter.

Obviously, better opponents await. The Bulls will visit Toronto on Tuesday. But they've set a template during the first week of the season of being aggressive on defense and trying to play fast.

"I give these guys all the credit," Donovan said. "The best teams I've ever been around are really connected. I just think it's really hard to be good if you're not a connected group and you don't feel personal accountability to the guy standing next to you.

"If you were around these guys, you would love being with them. They're easy to talk to, they're honest, they're straightforward, they're really good guys, they're unselfish, they're high character. It's easy to be connected when you're 3-0. We'll see how connected we are when it gets difficult."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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