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Billy Donovan gets first win as Bulls coach, but work is just starting

After two embarrassing losses to start the season, then a heartbreaker against the Warriors, the Bulls finally showed they could turn the page and stop dwelling on the negative. At least for one night.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan talks with guard Zach LaVine during the second half of Tuesday’s win over the Wizards.
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan talks with guard Zach LaVine during the second half of Tuesday’s win over the Wizards.
Nick Wass/AP

Coach Billy Donovan wasn’t going to panic after three straight losses to start the season, and he wasn’t going to pop the champagne, either, after the Bulls’ first win Tuesday.

His message is the same: Let this all marinate.

“You start getting 40, 45, 50 games into the season, you really start to see, ‘OK, this is who we’re going to end up being, and this is who we are,’ ” Donovan said after his team defeated the host Wizards 115-107. “I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”

In other words, the sample size isn’t large enough for Donovan and the front office to make any roster decisions.

But this win was much-needed nonetheless, especially after two embarrassing losses and one flat-out heartbreak. The concern early on has been that the Bulls collectively dwell on the last possession, the last quarter, the last loss. By manhandling the Wizards (0-4) after losing in the final seconds to the Warriors, maybe, just maybe, this group has started to mature.

“[Youth] can’t be an excuse, but I do think they need to learn how to do things that aren’t going to be self-inflicted wounds in games,” Donovan said. “There’s things we have control over that we can do a better job of. And the more and more these guys are in that situation, we’ll find out more and more about our group.”

What Donovan found out in Washington is that center Wendell Carter Jr. is no longer beating himself up. Carter had his second consecutive double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Zach LaVine scored a team-high 23 points, highlighted by a marvelous baseline slam in the third quarter. And veteran Garrett Temple (12 points) is having a calming influence on younger players,

Lauri Markkanen scored nine points and had to leave the game in the third quarter as he deals with a bruised calf. And giving the Wizards a chance to get back in the game in the fourth quarter wasn’t a good look for the Bulls (1-3). But before the Wizards could get a comeback going, Temple, Otto Porter Jr., and LaVine answered down the stretch with buckets and clutch free throws.

“We’ve been obviously talking about [how] that can’t happen again, but it’s kind of taking actions and actually believing it,” Markkanen said. “[We’re] just going out there and fighting for each other. Coach had a good point that we haven’t been able to finish out games, and that’s something we have to learn how to do. We threw the previous game away [against the Warriors]. That should have been our win. And even [Tuesday], there were times that we weren’t organized on offense when they put the pressure on us. So we’ve got to learn how to handle that and just get better at it.’’

Handling adversity has been a touchy subject, but one the Bulls aren’t hiding from, either. The big early-season test comes Thursday when they face the Wizards again.

“It’s obviously very important to get the first win,” said guard Tomas Satoransky (10 points, six assists). “It kind of takes the pressure off your shoulders. But I think it tells us what I already know — that this group is trying to get better every day and trying to play better.”