The roster has changed, but the goal hasn’t: It’s go time for Bulls

All eyes are on new acquisition Nikola Vucevic for the stretch run, but the big man isn’t alone. Other players need to step up if the Bulls want to play a postseason game.

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The new Bulls players aren’t the only ones facing scrutiny as the NBA season winds down.

The new Bulls players aren’t the only ones facing scrutiny as the NBA season winds down.

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Center Nikola Vucevic has played only five games for the Bulls, during which he has averaged 20.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

The number that matters most, however, is the Bulls’ 1-4 record.

So why will Vucevic be the Bulls’ most important player in their final 24 regular-season games? Because the Bulls gave up two first-round draft picks — in 2021 and 2023 — at the trade deadline last month to acquire him and have changed their philosophies on both ends of the court because of him.

In trading for Vucevic, the Bulls went from being undersized in the paint on most nights to having one of the biggest front lines in the Eastern Conference when they use Lauri Markkanen at small forward.

There’s a reason guard Zach LaVine has gone from averaging 27.9 points before the deal to averaging 19.5 points since. Sure, he has been dealing with a sore ankle, but the Bulls now have a second big offensive weapon they can deploy.

‘‘I think it’s just a matter of them getting used to having a guy that can really post up and we can play out of it,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘They also had [forward] Thad [Young], who’s a very good post-up player. But I think what we have to figure out is, once I get it, the movement off the ball. If they double-team, what should we do? If they’re just digging hard and letting me play one-on-one? So just figure it out, and that’s just going to come with reps.’’

Those reps often will have to come in games and under fire, with the Bulls playing five road games in the next seven nights, starting Tuesday against the Pacers.

They also will have to come as the Bulls are pushing for a top-eight seed in the conference rather than being in their current play-in-game position at No. 10.

That’s why this part of the schedule is so crucial. The games are winnable on paper, but the opponents are standing in the way of the Bulls’ progress toward a postseason appearance.

And while the spotlight will remain on Vucevic in this stretch run, he won’t be alone. Here are three other players who have to play at a high level for the Bulls to make their trade-deadline shakeup worth it:

1. LaVine

Few NBA players in the last seven seasons have been asked to adjust their playing philosophies more than LaVine has. Whether it has been a coaching change or roster turnover, he has had no choice but to remain fluid in his approach.

Now LaVine is learning how to play with the best big man he has played with, and there’s a certain amount of sacrifice that comes with that territory. The good news for the Bulls is that LaVine’s chase for meaningful playoff basketball has become more important to him than his chase for numbers.

2. Tomas Satoransky

When the Bulls get solid play from their point guard, especially in terms of ball security, they are winning games or at least in them. Satoransky had his best game of the season Sunday against the Nets. If he can play near that level more consistently, the Bulls might be able to eliminate a major weakness.

3. Patrick Williams

The rookie forward has taken some lumps this season, often guarding the opposing team’s best player. He continues to say he has learned valuable lessons in those matchups, and now it’s time for him to show it.

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