Bulls coach Billy Donovan keeps emphasizing focus after win over Raptors
Donovan knows it’s human nature to get caught up in the scores and standings on a nightly basis. But with 22 regular-season games left, he wants the focus to be in the right place.
There are moments when Bulls coach Billy Donovan is wordy in his replies to the media, making sure there’s a full understanding of what he’s explaining.
Then there are times, such as Thursday, when he gets right to the point.
‘‘Whenever our schedule is done, it’s going to be we won enough or we just didn’t,’’ Donovan said after the Bulls’ 122-113 victory against the Raptors in Tampa, Fla., their third triumph in a row.
Why was that even a topic for a team that is 22-28 and still stuck in the final play-in spot as the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference? Because with 22 regular-season games left, Donovan understands human nature.
Even veteran players, such as forward Thad Young, are fixated on the standings each night, checking the scores and playoff positions of other teams in the East. Donovan wants to make sure the Bulls keep their focus. With so many games crammed into the next five weeks, it’s a message he will continue hammering home.
‘‘Our film sessions, our shootarounds, our walkthroughs have got to be good, they’ve got to be detailed and there’s gotta be great focus,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I always say to these guys: ‘I don’t need your bodies physically right now; I need your minds.’
“There’s the human element of every day looking at the standings and looking at who won, who lost. I think what happens a lot of times is you get caught up in that stuff and fail to realize that you’ve got to focus on yourself.’’
The Bulls’ focus was evident against an undermanned Raptors team missing starting guards Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
Zach LaVine scored 22 points and handed out 13 of the Bulls’ 35 assists. Tomas Satoransky added seven assists and Nikola Vucevic six for the Bulls, who kept the ball moving all night.
As far as taking care of the dirty work in the paint, Daniel Theis returned to the rotation after missing the last game for personal reasons and finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
And he wasn’t the only big man off the bench to make an impact. Lauri Markkanen added 18 points and was a plus-23. He looked more physical against the Raptors, and teammates thought he was, too.
It’s a style of basketball the Bulls finally seem to be embracing in the wake of the five new faces brought in at the trade deadline.
‘‘We’ve put a bigger emphasis on getting into bodies,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘We’re just trying to be a more physical team, and I think we’ve been able to do that.’’
If there was a stretch Donovan could pick on, it was the final half of the fourth quarter. The Bulls seemed to grow bored for a while. Or perhaps they were turning their attention toward their game Friday against the Hawks in Atlanta.
The Raptors outscored the Bulls 34-25 in the fourth quarter, and it fell to LaVine to end a 9-0 run and any hopes of a comeback. He made a layup with 1:27 left, then nailed a three-pointer.
‘‘Zach has done everything he can to impact the group and impact winning,’’ Donovan said of LaVine’s night. ‘‘Besides scoring, I think he’s working defensively and trying to set guys up and make the right basketball play. He continues to improve and put us as a team in position to win.’’