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Closing time? Bulls coach Billy Donovan going with old-man strength

The first-year Bulls coach has been searching for different rotation combinations since the season started, and for now, he has settled on a closing group for close games, leaning on veteran players Thad Young, Garrett Temple and Otto Porter Jr.

 Bulls forward Thaddeus Young shoots over Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington during the second half Tuesday night.
Bulls forward Thaddeus Young shoots over Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington during the second half Tuesday night.
Craig Mitchelldyer/AP

Call it the vet lineup or simply the closers, but don’t discount old-man strength.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan hasn’t.

While rotations and lineup combinations will remain fluid as Donovan searches for the best mixes, he seems to have settled on a group he likes to finish close games. At least for now.

Second-year guard Coby White has been a part of that unit, but there’s also Garrett Temple, 34; Thaddeus Young, 32; and Otto Porter Jr., 27. Throw in Zach LaVine, and it’s obvious that Donovan trusts his vets.

“It obviously allows us to switch a little more if need be, play different ways defensively,’’ Temple said Tuesday. ‘‘You got five guys that can really pass/shoot/dribble if need be, as well, so I think it gives us some versatility as well as some veteran presence, people that know how to finish games.’’

There’s a method behind that small-ball madness, too.

It has worked, but it’s also a great teaching moment for all the young players on the roster.

“You want to win games,’’ Temple said. ‘‘You want to teach young guys, and the ultimate thing to teach young guys is how to win. So no matter what you’re teaching, if you’re teaching and continue losing, they really aren’t learning much.

‘‘So teach good habits, and obviously it’s difficult this season with less practice time to get drills in and teach during practice, so we’re going to have to teach on the fly, and we’re going to have to learn on the fly as players.

“But as long as we’re winning as well as learning a few things along the way, I think that’s the goal. We’ve done a pretty good job of that of late.’’

Entering the start of the West Coast trip in Portland, they’ve done more than a pretty good job compared to the start of the season, when Young and Temple were on the shelf.

There was that blowout in Milwaukee, but since the 0-3 start, the Bulls had won three of their last four games, and the vets have played a key role.

“I think having that veteran presence with Thad, Otto, Garrett, they’ve all been winners in this league,’’ White said. “You got to have that closing presence.

‘‘They never get rattled. They’re always calm, always at ease. So with their vibe and their presence out there, you can’t help but to be at ease and to just play within yourself.

“And those guys do a good job instilling confidence in you down the stretch. They’re always talking, giving you things to help you mentally out there, so you have fun playing with those guys because you’re always learning from those caliber of players.’’

Playing mentor

Temple has been on 10 NBA teams, so he has seen his share of point guards.

So what does White need to work on?

“Decision-making is going to be really big,’’ Temple said. “That’s the thing that really sets the best point guards apart, being able to make decisions.

‘‘It’s a thin line between the best and guys that aren’t the best. I think decision-making, keeping his turnovers low and just understanding when to be aggressive and when to be aggressive for the team, instead of scoring himself.’’