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Bulls’ lack of physicality is an invitation for opponents to attack

The latest example came in the first half Saturday against the Lakers. And while there’s not a quick fix with the roster, there is a mentality the Bulls can take on to combat what bigger teams have been doing.

Bulls guard Coby White defends against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.
Bulls guard Coby White defends against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.
Ashley Landis/AP

The Bulls’ roster isn’t suddenly going to have a handful of players hit a magical growth spurt.

Someone with added physicality isn’t going to be walking through the door anytime soon.

Seventeen games into the regular season, the Bulls are who they are right now. That worries coach Billy Donovan because there is an obvious blueprint that continues giving his team problems.

‘‘When we’re playing against size and physicality, a lot of times we’re not the biggest team and we’re not the strongest team,’’ Donovan said, pointing to the dismantling Saturday at the hands of the Lakers as the latest example. ‘‘The only way you can beat size and physicality is through ball movement and through a willingness and a commitment to cutting and moving.

‘‘They’re posting up Anthony Davis on Thad [Young]. They’re posting him up on Lauri [Markkanen]. There’s a huge size differential there. You know, LeBron [James] has size differential every game he plays in. They are a very, very big team. You make it easier for them the more stagnant you get.’’

It happened early in the season against the Hawks and in a beatdown at the hands of the Bucks, then again against the Lakers, who opened a 30-point lead at halftime.

‘‘Against those kind of teams, we have to move around,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘If we get stationary and teams can use their length and size and physicality, that’s gonna overwhelm us.’’

Especially when that length and physicality turns into on-the-ball pressure. Several teams have used that against the Bulls late in the first half or in the fourth quarter.

When the Bulls’ movement gets stagnant or predictable, teams have tested their ballhandling and gone at them.

Even Zach LaVine, who gets lead-guard duties at some point in every game, admitted the Lakers capitalized on a weakness the Bulls have shown too often.

‘‘They swarmed to the ball,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I think their pressure messed with us a little bit. And their physicality.’’

That’s a bad combination for a team that is loose with the ball in the first place.

Entering the game Monday against the Celtics, the Bulls led the NBA in turnovers with 17.1 per game. Some of that has to do with learning a new system, especially considering the 76ers, Rockets, Nets and Pelicans — all of whom have new coaches — are also among the top 10 in that category.

But the turnovers that concern Donovan come when opposing teams are physically imposing their will on the Bulls, who seem to go through spurts where they stand around and take it.

Donovan has talked with both his starting guards — LaVine and Coby White — about making sure they don’t fall into that trap and, more important, that they don’t allow their teammates to do so.

‘‘For me, I don’t like being sugarcoated,’’ White said. ‘‘[Donovan] keeps it real. He just tells you the truth.’’

The truth spreads fast around the NBA, and softness will be exposed.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of young guys that are gonna physically get stronger; they’re gonna physically get better,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘But there’s not a lot of solutions, so to speak, when teams are physical or teams have great length. You have to be able to space, you’ve got to be able to move the ball and you’ve got to be able to move your body.’’