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With Daniel Theis in mix, Bulls need to get defensive

Coach Billy Donovan still isn’t sure about the combinations he’ll use in the frontcourt, but he knows the defense has to improve if the Bulls want to make a playoff push.

‘‘The way I play, I’m physical,’’ new Bulls big man Daniel Theis said.‘‘That was my role with the Celtics, too: Be a defensive anchor. Be vocal. Be loud. Put my body in there. Protect the rim. Protect the paint. Just be there for my teammates.”
‘‘The way I play, I’m physical,’’ new Bulls big man Daniel Theis said.‘‘That was my role with the Celtics, too: Be a defensive anchor. Be vocal. Be loud. Put my body in there. Protect the rim. Protect the paint. Just be there for my teammates.”
Michael Dwyer/AP

New Bulls center Nikola Vucevic has only 11 playoff games on his résumé.

What carries weight, however, is that’s about 11 more than most of his new teammates.

So when Vucevic stresses the importance of getting the Bulls’ defense straightened out as quickly as possible, he knows of what he speaks.

The question is, how do the Bulls do that with so many new faces and so little practice time to get players familiar with each other?

The first step came Sunday, when big man Daniel Theis joined the Bulls for practice in San Francisco, where they will play the Warriors on Monday. He was acquired from the Celtics on Thursday but was delayed because of family matters.

‘‘The way I play, I’m physical,’’ Theis said in his first video conference with Bulls media. ‘‘That was my role with the Celtics, too: Be a defensive anchor. Be vocal. Be loud. Put my body in there. Protect the rim. Protect the paint. Just be there for my teammates. Whenever I’m on the court, bring energy and help the team get better.’’

That’s a good starting point, but Theis can’t fix the defense by himself. The Bulls’ issues on that side of the ball were obvious in their loss Saturday to the Spurs, especially among the starters.

Case in point was allowing 33 points in the first quarter. But even more worrisome was that they looked confused on matchups, especially in transition and pick-and-roll.

Coach Billy Donovan identified a number of those issues.

‘‘The biggest thing we have to address is just our defense,’’ Donovan said, referring to the new-look roster. ‘‘I didn’t think we had enough presence at the basket for a good portion of the game.

‘‘I think it started out on top. Our ball pressure and our guard pressure in the pick-and-roll has to be much better. I thought the ball went wherever it wanted to go. And then I thought when it came downhill, we didn’t have enough presence at the basket to contest and challenge.’’

Vucevic agreed with all of that. Familiarity with each other will work some of that out, and understanding the new terminology will smooth things a bit, too.

At some point, however, there just has to be a will that kicks in, especially against an aggressive team such as the Spurs, who went right at the Bulls.

‘‘Part of it, for sure, was the terminology for me is very new,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘The way certain things are done are new, so I had to get adjusted to that. But I think we weren’t doing a good job getting to the ball and helping and covering for each other and things like that. They were really aggressive coming at us, and we just didn’t respond the way we needed to.

‘‘If we play more aggressively, there are going to be mistakes. But when you’re playing with more aggressiveness, you can cover some of those things up.’’

If the Bulls thought the Spurs put pressure on their defense, take a look at what’s coming up. After playing the Warriors, they will face the Suns, Jazz and Nets.

‘‘People tend to talk more about offense, which is very important, especially nowadays in the NBA,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘But we have to make sure we figure out both at the same time and get that right.

‘‘There are going to be games where we struggle offensively, and good defense is going to give us a chance. Once we get to the playoffs, defense is very, very important.’’