Lessons learned? Bulls coach Billy Donovan hopes so after victory against Cavaliers
Lauri Markkanen and Coby White have been inconsistent this season, but each played winning basketball Saturday.
Coach Billy Donovan hopes the Bulls have learned some lessons this season. With only 16 regular-season games left, they had better have.
Guard Coby White scored only eight points in the Bulls’ victory Saturday against the Cavaliers, but he had nine assists and was a plus-eight in his time on the court.
Forward Lauri Markkanen was finally a factor off the bench with 16 points and six rebounds and was a plus-14.
‘‘The two guys I’m really, really proud [of] are Lauri and Coby,’’ Donovan said after the Bulls ended a five-game losing streak. ‘‘Not one more than the other, but in particular the fact that Coby, I think he had 27 points [in a loss Friday to the Grizzlies], then he comes back against the [Cavaliers] and can’t make a shot — I think he goes 2-for-10 — but I thought he played winning basketball. He did a good job running the team. He got us in and out of stuff. I thought he competed like crazy on the ball [defensively].
‘‘And for Lauri, coming off the bench and doing what he did . . . this, to me, is development. They need to understand how to impact winning, and I felt like both guys hopefully took a step in that direction. Whether or not they’re making shots or missing shots, they still can have an impact on the game.’’
That’s the mode in which the Bulls find themselves these days: They must do whatever they can to win if they want to play meaningful games in May.
And with guard Zach LaVine out after testing positive for the coronavirus, they have to do it without one of the elite scorers in the Eastern Conference.
That’s why Donovan took some hope in the victory Saturday. Yes, it came against the slumping Cavaliers, but White looked like a capable point guard and Markkanen looked like a player Donovan could close a game with.
Whether that has staying power is up to both players.
‘‘Those two guys are really important pieces to our team, and they’re two really good young players,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘But they haven’t won at a very significant level. And I’m not blaming either one of them for that. They need to learn how to [win games] and what goes into that.
‘‘Whatever Lauri’s minutes are — whether it’s 15 or 27 — what kind of impact does he make where he’s saying: ‘You know what? They’re going to have to keep me on the floor. I do too much. I rebound. I run the floor. I defend. I protect the rim. If I’m not shooting, I do other things.’ ’’
Markkanen checked a lot of those boxes against the Cavaliers, and that’s why he was on the court at the end. The problem with him and White, however, is that they have shown such moments before, only to slip back into bad habits.
Sometimes, however, it takes only one game for something to click. That’s what Donovan is hoping. And while Markkanen was saying the right things, it’s hard to guess what sticks with him and what doesn’t because he’s so laid-back.
‘‘I think a lot of guys have sacrificed,’’ Markkanen said of the fact that he and White now are coming off the bench. ‘‘I’m not going to do anything that jeopardizes the team. I’m going to play my role as well as I can. . . . I’m just trying to focus on staying positive and bringing the energy off the bench. The opportunity is going to be there.’’
He’s right that the opportunity will be there. The question is whether he can grab it and hang on to it.