Bulls end five-game losing streak, finally embrace urgency

Coach Billy Donovan was unhappy about the lack of urgency and physicality his players displayed Friday and let them know about it. They seemed to get his message against the Cavaliers.

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In a perfect world, the Bulls would have their postseason destiny clearly in their hands.

That’s not the case right now, however. And it’s also not necessarily a bad thing, in coach Billy Donovan’s opinion.

While their 106-96 victory Saturday against the Cavaliers lifted the Bulls into a tie for 10th place in the Eastern Conference — the last spot to reach the play-in tournament — with the Wizards, things are still fragile. Their toughness is about to be tested with 16 regular-season games left.

‘‘I don’t know any player who reached his fullest potential who didn’t look back on their career and say: ‘You know what? This was a really difficult moment in my life, a really challenging moment. I probably didn’t enjoy going through it. But as I’ve come through on the other side, it really has made me better,’ ’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I don’t know if you can necessarily improve if everything is always comfortable and easy.’’

It hasn’t been for the Bulls this season, that’s for sure.

After the trade deadline threw five new players into the mix, including All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, things were supposed to be way easier than they have been. Vucevic and Zach LaVine were expected to be an unstoppable one-two punch in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop, the defense was expected to improve with Daniel Theis and Troy Brown Jr. and Lauri Markkanen and Coby White were going to anchor the bench.

It all looked so good on paper. But then came a five-game losing streak and the news that LaVine would miss significant time after he had a positive coronavirus test.

Donovan challenged the Bulls to play with urgency and physicality after their loss Friday to the Grizzlies. Maybe they finally got the message because despite not winning many of the statistical categories Donovan deems important, they still won the game.

And they can thank a 10-0 run in last three minutes for that.

‘‘I’m hopeful that what happened [Saturday] can be a growth moment,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘There was a lot of physicality. I thought we had incredible effort. We played with that urgency. We had that desperation. We played like we were desperate out there. There was a resistance and a persistence there, and that’s how we have to play.’’

There was even a big effort from Markkanen. After seemingly disappearing through the five-game losing streak, Markkanen had 16 points and six rebounds and made a huge three-pointer with 2:30 left.

So where have you been, Lauri?

‘‘You’re the one who’s watching all the games, right?’’ Markkanen responded. ‘‘We’re running different stuff. After the trade, we changed our style of play a little bit, so I think that’s part of it.

‘‘I always look at myself. I think I can be more aggressive when I catch the ball, and sometimes the opportunity hasn’t been there as much. Obviously, when you play less, it’s not as many opportunities as when you play 33 minutes. But I try to do all that I can when I have the opportunity, and that’s all you can do.’’

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