Which happens first: Walk on moon or Bulls become winners?
The Bulls would like to win more games. Well, coach Billy Donovan would like to walk on the moon, but it's not happening under current conditions.
That kind of summarizes one statement Donovan made to reporters on a Zoom call Saturday, the day after a brutal 127-125 overtime loss in Oklahoma City. The Bulls led by 16 points by 4:40 remaining and by 10 with two minutes left.
Donovan was talking about how the young Bulls players can learn how to win when he brought up the astronaut analogy.
"I always say this in life -- I'd like to go to the moon. I really would," Donovan said. "I have no interest in doing what it takes to become an astronaut. So like, 'I want to win!' 'OK, great, are you really willing to do what goes into winning?'
"And what goes into this is what I think they're trying to learn right now. Now as we go through this process I have not seen anything from them that is giving me the indication that they're not willing to put in the work. To be honest, the concentration is a major problem."
There are several conflicting traits among these Bulls. They have five starters who range in age from 19-25, who joined the Bulls since the rebuild began and possess zero winning experience in the NBA.
By utilizing more veteran support this season, the Bulls have been competitive more often than not the past three weeks. But they also rank last in the league in turnovers and are near the bottom in defense.
So while their inability to pull out close games is frustrating, it's also easy to identify their biggest problems.
Second-year guard Coby White talked about the team's mood the day after the devastating defeat, where the Bulls played really well for more than three quarters.
"I think just hungry. Hungry and frustrated, but staying positive," White said. "During these times when adversity hits, when things aren't going our way, we've got to stay together. I think we're learning. It was a good day today, honestly. We got a lot of stuff done mentally."
The Bulls had a stretch in the third quarter when they were turning the ball over with careless passes, perhaps getting too complacent after building a 22-point lead. They seemed to right the ship, but in the final minute of the fourth quarter, they had three costly turnovers -- first when Zach LaVine lost his dribble, then illegal screen calls against White and Lauri Markkanen.
Donovan suggested he didn't take it easy on the players during Saturday's film session.
"I don't think there's any benefit toward sugarcoating things or we need to make them feel better because we have a game tomorrow," he said. "I mean, it's the NBA. Every game is hard. I think this team's got character and I think they're good guys. Can we come out and really compete after really losing a tough, tough game?"
When the Bulls looked so sharp in the first half, it seemed like maybe the extra practice time they got this week because of Tuesday's cancellation against Boston might have paid off. Donovan saw something else.
"I do think the (Oklahoma City) game was a microcosm of practice on Tuesday and Thursday, if I'm being totally honest," he said. "That's what that was. In terms of taking care of the ball, attention to detail, focus, concentration, those kind of things.
"Because we were in a lot of special situations in practice and I would say it looked like it did last night. So those are the things we've got to understand -- the little things and the attention to detail and the concentration and the focus and those kind of things."
Learning how to win in the NBA is more difficult than it sounds, especially for players who have no successful experience. But they'll get two chances to learn from their mistakes in the next two days.
They'll play at Dallas on Sunday afternoon. The Mavericks are expected to have both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis available, after having neither in a Jan. 3 loss at the United Center. The Bulls host Houston on Monday, who will likely have Victor Oladipo instead of James Harden at shooting guard.
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