Bulls hit 40-year defensive low in loss to Timberwolves

The Bulls made another team-wide declaration against Minnesota on Sunday:

They play basketball to score points and build individual stats. Sometimes they'll buckle down and work hard on defense, but if things aren't going their way, the defensive effort gets tossed out the window.

The 150-126 loss to the Timberwolves in Minneapolis was particularly miserable because it was just the fourth time in franchise history the Bulls gave up 150 points in regulation time.

It hadn't happened since Nov. 3, 1982, when they dropped a 152-144 decision at Detroit. The other two times they allowed 150 were about a month into the franchise's existence in 1966 and the final game of the 1968-69 season.

Minnesota piled up points by hitting 23 of 43 shots from 3-point range, but when a team plays no defense, things like that tend to happen.

"The bottom line is, we're not escaping competition," Bulls coach Billy Donovan told reporters after the game. "We need to compete a whole lot better on the defensive end of the floor. That's five guys being connected.

"I can switch to zone, I can switch to different pick-and-roll coverages. But if the compete level is not high enough collectively as a group out there, it doesn't make a difference."

The Timberwolves didn't have either of their big men on the floor, with both Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns out with injuries. Anthony Edwards led the way with 37 points and D'Angelo Russell went 7-for-10 from 3-point range.

The Minnesota lineup made things tougher on Bulls center Nikola Vucevic. Like most teams, the Timberwolves repeatedly put Vucevic in pick-and-roll situations, which requires some effort from everyone on the floor to provide the proper defensive help.

"Everybody's job's really hard," Donovan said. "Vuc has got a really hard job being up (on the perimeter defensively). I think last year Vuc defended more pick-and-rolls than any other center in the league. That's a hard job.

"Well, you've got to be there behind to support him and know that, 'Hey listen, I'm going to be here, you're going to take care of me.' Then someone's got to take care of the next guy and the next guy."

Donovan talked about the connection within a team where players are working hard to help their teammates, and putting in the effort to support each other. Why the Bulls don't have that is anyone's guess, but they have played pretty good defense against quality teams at times this season.

"To me, we've got to get out of the mindset of worrying about scoring and how's it going offensively, and realize the ball scores," Donovan said. "And if the ball's moved and passed, whoever scores, scores.

"The ball's got to find the open man and when shots are going in or not going in, or they're making shots, you've got to keep coming back and competing."

The offensive side went fine for the Bulls (11-18), with DeMar DeRozan scoring 29 points, Vucevic 23 and Zach LaVine 22. As a team, the Bulls finished with 31 assists.

Javonte Green missed the game with right knee soreness, while Donovan said he thought he could inject some energy with a smaller lineup, so he didn't use backup center Andre Drummond.

"It ain't like we not trying," LaVine told reporters in the locker room. "We're going out here, talking a lot. We've got to stop talking and go out there and do it. It's frustrating for all of us, I know it's frustrating for the fans.

"It's embarrassing. We're all embarrassed by it. At the end of the day, you've got to look yourself in the mirror and be real about it and figure out how to come back."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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