While defense remains out of sync, Bulls manage to out-score Portland

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bulls center Tony Bradley, center, rebounds a ball against Portland Trail Blazers forward Trendon Watford, front left, and guard Ben McLemore (23) on Sunday at the United Center.

    Bulls center Tony Bradley, center, rebounds a ball against Portland Trail Blazers forward Trendon Watford, front left, and guard Ben McLemore (23) on Sunday at the United Center. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/30/2022 7:02 PM

The Bulls don't want to rely on their offense to outscore teams in order to win, but it's a formula that worked out Sunday.

Defense remained a work in progress as the Trail Blazers were efficient from the 3-point line. But the Bulls shared the ball, had multiple 20-point scorers and won 130-116 at the United Center.

 

The Bulls (31-18) improved to 3-2 in their week of facing mostly teams with losing records. Toronto was 1 game above .500 as of Sunday, and the Bulls have a rematch with 10-40 Orlando on Tuesday. When this game ended, they were still second in the East, a half-game behind Miami.

Guarding the 3-point line has become a problem for the Bulls. Before Alex Caruso got hurt in Milwaukee, the Bulls were among the league-leaders allowing an average of 11.3 made 3-pointers per game.

Over the last five games, that total has grown to 14.8 per game. Portland opened the game hitting 6 of their first 7 long-range shots and finished the day 18 of 39, one short of the Bulls' opponent season-high.

"I think in the first quarter we had the right intentions, but we did a really poor job of our closeouts were below the 3-point line," coach Billy Donovan said. "What I mean by that is we're stopping under the 3-point line, worried about getting driven.

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"Then when they rise up to shoot, you're going out there and contesting. It's too late. You've got to run out there with your heels above the 3-point line."

The Bulls haven't been very good at containing players off the dribble either lately. Too often they get beat off the dribble, have to help and end up with all five players scrambling to catch up to the ball.

When the Bulls won nine in a row in early January, Donovan talked about how they let defensive habits slip. They got it figured out for a while, but have struggled since losing both Caruso and Lonzo Ball to injuries.

"I think now we have a much better understanding that if we really want to be a good team and have a deep push at the end of the year, our defense has to be there," center Nikola Vucevic said. "When you're winning and everything's clicking offensively, you kind of get lost in it. I think we got the message now so hopefully we can work on it and get better and become just more consistent."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

What the Bulls did well Sunday was share the ball. Both Ayo Dosunmu (11) and DeMar DeRozan (10) finished with double-digit assists. There were three 20-point scorers -- Vucevic with 24, DeRozan with 23 and Zach LaVine with 20. Vucevic added 14 rebounds.

Javonte Green scored 16 points, the most while wearing a Bulls uniform, but was grabbing his side early in the fourth quarter and did not return. Donovan said Green told him he got hit in the ribs or stomach and would have been able to go back in if necessary.

Despite the 3-point barrage, the Bulls were able to keep a comfortable lead throughout the fourth quarter. The bench helped the cause as Coby White scored 18 points, Tony Bradley 10 and Matt Thomas 9.

This was the second game in a row White knocked down 3 quick 3-pointers in the first half, then drew more defensive attention. He finished the game 5-for-16 from the field.

"I just feel like teams loaded up against Zach and DeMar, so if I can help them by making some catch and shoot shots, then teams maybe won't load up as much," White said. "I just try to help those guys with spacing-wise. For me, it's just trusting my shot and if I'm open, just shooting it."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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