Bulls learning to compete, but lose close one to Lakers

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • The Bulls tried to put up a challenge against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night. While Zach LaVine was hot at the start, the Bulls are still trying to figure out their defense.

    The Bulls tried to put up a challenge against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night. While Zach LaVine was hot at the start, the Bulls are still trying to figure out their defense. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/9/2021 12:40 AM

Generally, the first sign that a young team is actually getting better is they start losing close games to good teams. That's a positive step.

The Bulls got a break Friday in Los Angeles with news that all-star Anthony Davis would miss the game against his hometown team because of a right abductor strain.

 

The Bulls gave the defending champion Lakers a good battle and had a chance to win at the end, but Zach LaVine missed a 20-foot jumper and the Lakers held on to win 117-115.

LaVine finished with 38 points, after going 8-for-8 from the field in the first quarter. Center Wendell Carter Jr. added a season-high 23 points.

After the game, coach Billy Donovan talked about the progress the Bulls have made since opening the season with a pair of blowout losses.

"One thing that really stood out to me, we were playing against Indiana (in Game 2) and maybe we got a 6-point lead and it was those possessions where they started to press us (into) 3 consecutive turnovers," he said. "All of the sudden the lead shifted from up 6 to down 4. Time out, their bench is going crazy and our guys were just like totally defeated. And it was like in the second quarter.

"There was like zero resiliency, there was like zero fight back. I just kept talking to them about it and showed them. A normal NBA game has a 23-point swing. It's going to happen, just get used to it. Teams are going to make runs, but you've got to fight."

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The Bulls rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat Portland on Tuesday. Against the Lakers, they fell behind by 12 points with eight minutes to go and got the ball back down by 1 with 12 seconds left before LaVine's miss.

"Tonight, they didn't hang their heads and they kept battling," Donovan said. "I don't know what's turned it around, but I've tried to talk to them about why you have to respond to adversity. I don't know if it's helped or not, but we certainly have talked about it a lot."

Rookie Patrick Williams got another crash course in NBA defense, taking on LeBron James most of the night. Williams had some good moments and some rookie mistakes. With 46 seconds left, James put his head down on a drive, pushed Williams back into the lane, hit a layup, drew a foul and flexed toward the Lakers bench.

That basket put the Lakers up by 4, but a Garrett Temple 3-point and James long miss gave the Bulls a chance to win. Williams talked about the matchup after the game.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Every media outlet is showing what he can do, what he can't do," Williams said. "I wasn't really surprised You've got to deal with it. He's a strong, powerful guy. He's also one of the smartest guys on the court. He's definitely a tough matchup, but I want to guard the best players every night and I got better at that tonight."

Otto Porter left the game after just six minutes due to back spasms and did not return.

The Bulls have been struggling to figure out their defense. They started the night ranked 28th in points allowed at 120.6 per game. Carter is usually the guy who is tasked to guard the basket when his teammates let an opponent get past them.

"One thing I've had to come to grips with is that I can't block every shot or I can't stop players from scoring every play," Carter said. "I do understand that sometimes that players are going to score. What I did struggle with my rookie year, and even last year, I tried to stop everybody.

Windy City still on hold:

The NBA officially announced plans for a G-League bubble at Disney World. As expected, the Windy City Bulls will not be one of the 17 teams taking part. Windy City is still in business and hoping to return to Hoffman Estates in November, at what it now known as Now Arena. The local G-League entry had its best season attendance-wise in 2019-20.

Bulls two-way players Devon Dotson and Adam Mokoka will stay with the NBA Bulls all season and last year's Windy City coach, Damian Cotter, had already joined the Bulls coaching staff in a player development role and was not planning to lead the G-League team this season.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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