Bulls' Donovan focuses on closing out the season with sharper decisions

With three days off between the games, Bulls coach Billy Donovan chose to focus on fundamentals rather than installing anything new.

In order to close out the season strong, Donovan believes the Bulls need to be better at dealing with closeouts.

"I've always said the two hardest things to do in a basketball game is to get back in transition and close out defensively," Donovan said Tuesday at the Advocate Center. "We're generating a lot of closeouts, but I don't think we've been as effective attacking those closeouts."

It's probably an underappreciated part of the game. Basically, it's when the ball is passed to an open teammate, usually outside the 3-point line, and a defender rushes out to guard.

Usually, that's the best time to put the ball on the floor and drive toward the basket, using the defender's momentum against him. But should the player drive and shoot? Drive and dish? Maybe the lane is crowded and the best option is to swing the ball around the perimeter.

"A lot of those things are split-second decisions," Donovan said. "Since we haven't had a lot of practice time, we've just been trying to build that out. It's not so much putting in new plays or running a new offense. It's more, 'Here are the things that are happening, here's what you should be looking for. Here's where they're rotating to.' We've got to make good, quick decisions."

The Bulls spend plenty of time in catch-up mode on defense. Phoenix on Mar. 3 offered a good example of moving the ball around the perimeter. It seemed like every time the Bulls ran to close out at the 3-point line, the Suns would make three quick passes, giving someone on the other side of the court a wide-open look at a 3-pointer.

"Sometimes we get stuck trying to pump-fake and that's when we let the defense come back and get set again," center Nikola Vucevic said. "I think we've been much better at it, especially the last two games. When we're doing that, with all the offensive power we have, it's hard to defend."

Since the all-star break, when Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso joined the starting lineup, the Bulls have shot 52.2% from the field as a team. They're coming off a pair of solid road wins at Denver and Houston.

The lineup change left the second unit with three younger guys - Patrick Williams, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu - which has been a struggle at times. And it's the players with less experience who need closeout coaching the most.

"I think we were better the last two games on the road," Donovan said. "Was every possession great? No, but we were better. I think if we can be better handling those closeout situations, I think it will create more free throws for us, it will create more downhill penetration, it may create more 3s."

The three days off lead into a critical stretch of three-straight home games, beginning with Sacramento on Wednesday. With 15 games left in the regular season, the Bulls started Monday in 10th place in the East, a half-game ahead of Washington and a half-game behind Toronto.

The Bulls got some encouraging injury news on Javonte Green. He was able to do some running and cutting for the second day in a row, and played in a 3-on-3 game after practice. Green hasn't played since Dec. 31 due to a knee injury and had arthroscopic surgery.

Alex Caruso (foot) sat out Tuesday's practice as a precaution, but is not listed on the injury report.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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