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Bulls search for explanations to slow starts

In losing two of their last three games, the Bulls have struggled with huge first-half deficits. Considering the schedule the next few weeks, the problem needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

The Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic will enter Monday’s game against the Nets shooting 38% from the field this season, and a dismal 25.6% from three-point range.
The Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic will enter Monday’s game against the Nets shooting 38% from the field this season, and a dismal 25.6% from three-point range.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Bulls guard Zach LaVine knows how ugly the numbers are.

He just doesn’t have a definitive solution.

“We just have to do a better job of setting the tone,’’ LaVine said. “We’re playing from behind almost every game now, and if you keep living dangerously, you’re going to end up losing some of these games.’’

They dropped two of their last three.

Against the Celtics and 76ers (twice), the Bulls had a 10.7-point average first-half deficit.

It’s great that they made runs in all three games, even coming back from 19 in the third quarter to beat the Celtics, but good teams come ready to play. That was LaVine’s point.

“It’s frustrating,’’ he said. “We are trying to figure out how to get off to a better start. We come back every game, but it’s not like we want to live like that.’’

And they can’t afford to with the upcoming schedule.

The Bulls host the Nets on Monday and the Mavericks on Wednesday, then head to the West Coast to play the Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Nuggets.

Entering Sunday, all those teams were at .500 or better, even the Clippers, Lakers and Trail Blazers, who have had their share of struggles. So falling behind early against those teams could make for a very bad next few weeks.

That’s why figuring out how to remedy the problem is an immediate priority. The Bulls went through similar lulls last season, but youth and frequent lineup changes were built-in excuses. But those excuses are no longer valid.

LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and even Lonzo Ball have years of experience. They haven’t played together that much, but that shouldn’t be used as a justification.

“You understand how much firepower you have,’’ LaVine said. “But this also is a new team. I am not blaming that — we have to get off to better starts and figure out why [we’re not].’’

Vucevic — fairly or unfairly — is the easiest starter to point a finger at.

A double-double machine, Vucevic shot only 8-for-20 from the field in the first half of the last three games and was a combined minus-39. Playing against the 76ers’ Joel Embiid in the last two games hasn’t helped, but Vucevic’s first nine games have been a bit shaky.

Vucevic, a career 49.4% shooter from the field, including 35.4% from three-point range, will enter the game against the Nets shooting 38% from the field and 25.6% on threes.

Coach Billy Donovan was doing all he could to get Vucevic going, getting him familiar work in the post and also at the top of the arc as a facilitator. He thinks it’s only a matter of time before Vucevic’s numbers return to his career norms.

“I think [Vucevic is] really trying to figure out how to play with a lot of different guys,’’ Donovan said. “We’ve got to all do a better job, me included, [and come up with] different ways to find him.

“He hasn’t shot the ball well. I think that’s more a comfort thing than [something] I would be worried about. It’s just that there’s a learning curve for him playing with all these guys.’’