Donovan believes Bulls need to keep winning ugly

This one falls into the category of unexpected developments: Billy Donovan bringing back the Tom Thibodeau era.

No one thought this Bulls team would become a gritty, defensive-minded squad specializing in low-scoring games. But for the first time since the rebuilding era began in 2017, they allowed less than 90 points in consecutive games.

"We have to do that, we have to find ugly ways to win games," Donovan said after the Bulls beat Washington 102-82 on Sunday afternoon at the United Center.

Newcomer Patrick Beverley deserves credit for the solid defense in these last two games, but the Bulls were already a top-10 team in defensive rating before signing the veteran guard.

The Bulls were a pretty good defensive team at the start of last season when Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso were being aggressive on the defensive end, slapping on double-teams, then quickly recovering and getting their hands on passes.

Now that Donovan is using Caruso and Beverley together in the starting lineup, they've been able to re-create some of that defensive havoc, even with an undersized lineup.

"We just go out there and play together, help each other, no matter who's out there," DeMar DeRozan said. "We don't go out there with a mindset like we're undersized."

Donovan had a detailed explanation of why the Bulls defense started strong last year, fell off the table and has now returned.

"You've got to look at last year in terms of the way Alex and Lonzo were able to dominate at the point of the screen," Donovan said. "It really made it a lot easier for the bigs to get out of coverage, in pick-and-roll in particular, and get back and cover the rim.

"When we got spread out and the ball's coming downhill, you're giving up layups, you're giving up dunks, you're giving up offensive rebounds, you give up spray-out 3s. So everything for us is we've got to protect the paint."

There were a couple of positive offensive developments too. DeRozan scored 29 points Sunday, his highest total since Jan. 28, which is a sign he's back to his old self after struggling to play through a right quad strain.

"Last couple games have been great," DeRozan said. "The break did a great job for me too. Definitely feeling the best I've felt in a long time.

"I didn't touch a ball other than the All-Star Game until our first practice back. I really was trying to rest, rehab, ice, get the soreness out. I think I did a good job feeling good, got my legs back under me."

Zach LaVine scored 27 points against the Wizards and in the first two games back from the break, he's hit 23 of 35 shots from the field, and shot 60% from 3-point range.

"I've been in attack mode all month," LaVine said. "I caught my rhythm the last couple of months."

Beverley had a quiet statistical game in his second outing with the Bulls, finishing with no points, no assists and 4 rebounds. He did fire up the crowd with a blocked shot against fellow Chicago native Kendrick Nunn.

The win also moved the Bulls (28-33) within a half-game of Washington (28-32) for 10th place in the East, which is the final play-in spot. Playing without center Kristaps Porzingis and point guard Monte Morris, the Wizards were led by Bradley Beal's 18 points.

The Bulls were able to limit Kyle Kuzma to 10 points on 4 of 18 shooting. The 82 points was both Washington's lowest output of the season and the fewest by a Bulls opponent.

"Those losses definitely stuck with us over break," DeRozan said. "Guys understood the importance of these last 21 games now, we've got to play with a sense of urgency. I said it to the guys before our first practice, we've got to treat every game like it's a Game 7. As long as we keep that mentality, we've got a good chance."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, right, talks to guard Zach LaVine (8) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards in Chicago, Sunday. Associated Press
Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, right, drives to the basket as Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic guards during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Sunday. Associated Press
Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) drives to the basket against Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Sunday. Associated Press
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