There has to be a standard.
That message has been emphasized by Bulls coach Billy Donovan since the second half of the season tipped off last week.
Maybe on Sunday it finally registered.
Thanks to nine players scoring in double figures, including a career-high 23 points from rookie forward Patrick Williams, the Bulls ended a two-game skid out of the break by beating the Raptors 118-95 in a game featuring a rare 8 p.m. start at the United Center.
Sure, they were facing a severely short-handed team in the Raptors, but that was nothing new recently.
First came an embarrassment against a Sixers team without All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid on Thursday. Then came improvement against a Heat team without Bam Adebayo on Friday, but that still ended in a loss.
“I think for me more it’s what kind of standard are we playing to regardless of who is there and who’s not there?’’ Donovan said. “But the reality too is if you look at the standings and you look at that stuff, and you say, ‘OK, right now teams that are in playoffs?’ The last five playoff teams we’ve played we’re 0-5. So we gotta start beating teams, you know?’’
With the season halfway over and the Eastern Conference a complete logjam, the Bulls (17-20) beating the Raptors (17-22) was a good start.
Especially on a night when Toronto was missing three starters, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, who account for 53 points per game.
Not only did Donovan want his players to take advantage of that, but he also went with a new look to try to facilitate that process.
Out was inconsistent point guard Coby White and in was veteran guard Tomas Satoransky. Satoransky sees the floor better than White and puts teammates in a better position to score. Secondly, the move allows Zach LaVine to focus on his game, rather than also having to be the lead guard in many sets.
It was a quiet night for LaVine, finishing with just 15 points.
The other change was Wendell Carter Jr. on the bench to start the game for the first time in his Bulls career, with Thad Young getting the nod at center. Young, who finished with 10 points, seven assists and seven rebounds, offers a veteran presence, while Carter has been in a mental rut. He had struggled for five consecutive games, and it definitely seemed to be wearing on him after the loss to the Heat.
The good news was that Carter and White played well off the bench, rather than moping. Carter had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while White had 13 points.
“I was a little bit concerned with the way we were starting, these fragments in games where we had lapses,’’ Donovan said of the change after the game. “It has nothing to do with Coby and Wendell. It has more to do with how that group was playing.’’
Donovan didn’t have any concerns that it would impact their development.
“I think there’s some people that look at development as just throw a guy out there and let him play through all his mistakes and let him get better,’’ Donovan said. “These guys need to learn how to win, and the number one component that goes into winning is sacrifice. This is a situation where Coby and Wendell were put into a situation to sacrifice. In talking to both of those guys, they want to win.’’
And they made sure their teammates understood that.
“Guys responded really well,’’ Satoransky said. “We have a lot of good relationships on our team. Everybody cares about winning.’’