Accumulating talent just the first step for these rebuilding Bulls

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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wants each loss to sting a little bit.

‘‘They should hurt,’’ Hoiberg said of the Bulls’ 18 losses in their first 21 games, including their last eight. ‘‘But as soon as they’re over, it’s about getting ready for the next one.’’

Hoiberg doesn’t want his players to accept losing. Instead, he wants them to know there will be better days ahead.

‘‘The important thing is to take a step in the right direction,’’ Hoiberg said.

Maybe they have the last two games. The Bulls lost back-to-back one-point games Thursday to the Nuggets in Denver and Friday to the Kings at the United Center. Considering the embarrassing finishes they had against the Jazz and Warriors on their recent road trip, that’s progress.

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But while the first step of the Bulls’ rebuild is about accumulating talent, the second might be just as important and even more difficult. Learning how to win is almost an art form.

Plenty of young teams the last few seasons have looked good on paper, but they still have given their coaches headaches because of their inability to finish games.

Bulls point guard Kris Dunn was part of such a team last season with the Timberwolves, who featured talented youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins but had only a 31-51 record to show for it. The Timberwolves had talent, but they didn’t have a clue about how to finish.

So what did coach Tom Thibodeau do during the offseason? He traded Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine to the Bulls as part of a package for swingman Jimmy Butler, then added veterans Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague and Jamal Crawford.

The Timberwolves look like a playoff team these days, while Dunn and LaVine are back to the drawing board on learning how to win.

‘‘It’s definitely tough,’’ Dunn said when asked about learning how to win consistently. ‘‘We’re young, and when the fourth quarter comes, we’re still out there just playing instead of thinking about the game, seeing what’s going on, seeing who has the matchup. That’s where vets come in.

‘‘I think having a vet on teams, they know how to win games. I always say that in this league it’s hard to win games. We’ve seen [the last few losses]. It’s tough.’’

And the next game won’t provide the Bulls with much relief. They will host the Cavaliers, who are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak, on Monday.

‘‘Yeah, it is important and definitely something we can learn from,’’ Hoiberg said of getting his team to play with more poise during crunch time. ‘‘Hopefully we can be better in these types of [late-game] situations.

‘‘It’s a great learning opportunity for a young team, and hopefully we’ll be better to finish off the game the next time.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com


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