Bulls knows their winning formula, but discard it too often
What have we learned about the Bulls, now that their six-game Thanksgiving road trip is complete?
-- They are capable of beating the best teams in the East, as evidenced by two wins over Boston this season, and one at Milwaukee to start the trek.
-- They are either incapable or uninterested in sustaining the level of effort required to pull off quality wins on a regular basis.
The key to winning in the NBA is making the game easier. Typically, that means having a superstar who can both stuff the stat sheet and attract multiple defenders, making it easier for teammates to score.
The Bulls have three all-stars, but they haven't found enough ways to make the game easier. They need defensive effort, attention to detail and a commitment to working together on offense. Sometimes they have all that, quite often they don't.
Sunday's loss at Sacramento was another lesson in how to do it wrong. They fell behind by 18 points in the second quarter, then decided to play harder on defense and got as close as 1 point in the fourth, but forced too many shots, didn't get back on defense and suffered their third-straight loss.
Blame can be spread across the entire rotation, but it should start with the two leaders. It's up to DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine to set a winning tone on both ends. LaVine scored a season-high 41 points against the Kings, while DeRozan started slowly and spent too much time trying to get himself going.
After the game, the two leading scorers talked about doing things the right way.
"There's going to be tough conversations, there's going to be words said," LaVine said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "Sometimes you need that. From top to bottom, we've all got to try and figure it out because no one is going to dig us out of this hole besides us."
The Bulls set a season-low with 17 assists, after finishing with 28 two nights earlier against Golden State. When opposing teams are small across the front line, like the Kings and Warriors, the Bulls fare better when they commit to getting center Nikola Vucevic some touches in the paint. If the other team starts to send help, Vucevic can kick it out and create open shots.
The Bulls rank 28th in the league in made 3-pointers per game. So they're usually at a deficit in that key category. but they've also proven they can succeed from long range. Patrick Williams and Goran Dragic are both shooting better than 40% from 3-point range.
Sharing the ball, making teams guard the paint, then getting Williams more 3-point opportunities is a good blueprint to start with. If DeRozan or LaVine get it going and decide to take over late in the game, that's the time to do it.
But it appears the two all-stars need to be more cognizant of getting their teammates, and each other, going. When the shots are going in, the Bulls typically bring more energy on the defensive end.
"All these guys show frustration, show anger, and that's a great sign," DeRozan said after the Sacramento game. "We've got to channel that in the right direction -- the start of games, second quarter, third quarter, closing out games. Once we see we can do it and it gives us a belief, we'll be fine."