When the Chicago Bulls allowed the Minnesota Timberwolves to go 150 head points on Dec. 18, it was supposed to be a wake-up call.
The season had already started to go off the rails, but the 150-126 defeat was a different form of demoralization. And for the Bulls, it forced a sharper focus on defensive discipline that had waned in the first few weeks of December.
“It was a wake-up call,” center Nikola Vučević said after Thursday’s practice at the Advocate Center.
A quick look at the Bulls’ current position somewhat belies the change that followed that warning. Prior to the loss to the Timberwolves, the Bulls had fallen to 11-18. His offensive rating (110.7) was ranked 10th in the league and his defensive rating (112.6) was 18th.
500 as they struggle to get more than two wins at a time, and their offensive rating since that game (114.1) has remained in the bottom third of the league.
But defense has been a different story. In the 39 games since the Minneapolis loss, the Bulls have posted a 111.3 defensive rating – second best in the league – which has propelled them to a 20-19 record in that span.
The addition of Patrick Beverley gave the defense a boost, providing a layer of rigor along the perimeter that has fueled the Bulls since the All-Star break. But the change cannot be attributed to a single player.
Coach Billy Donovan said there was no need to change tactics or approach on defense – the Bulls just needed a challenge to clarify their attention to detail on and off the ball. And while that defensive tweak couldn’t erase the Bulls’ lack of 3-point shooting or third-quarter stagnation, it was enough to keep them competitive.
Before Friday’s game against the Timberwolves, the memory of those 150 points was still fresh enough to make players and coaches shudder. But the Bulls also felt more confident about their defensive cohesion, a small boost for a team chasing play-in contention.
“A lot of these clips will be from our last game against them, so this will probably jog your memories,” Donovan said. “But there aren’t many things as a coach to tell these guys about that game. It was a tough and embarrassing defeat, but there was a unity that came from it.”
The Bulls entered the night ranked 12th in the Eastern Conference, half a game behind the 10th-ranked Washington Wizards.
Javonte Green approaches comeback
The striker took another step towards a full return to the court on Friday when he was released to the Windy City Bulls.
Green has been sidelined since Jan. 11 after undergoing an arthroscopic debridement procedure to treat a persistent injury to his right knee. He spent several weeks before being in and out of the lineup due to the injury, which occurred on December 12.
While Green’s recovery process took longer than the team originally estimated, Donovan stated that the Bulls would welcome the forward back into the lineup. Green was moved into the starting line-up alongside Alex Caruso for one game before his injury, but it is unclear whether he would regain that position following the acquisition of Beverley, who immediately moved into the starting line-up.
Green averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 28 games for the Bulls this season.
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