Bad habits catch up with Bulls, who get 9-game winning streak snapped

Coach Billy Donovan had been warning his players for weeks to get back to good defensive habits, and they realized why Sunday against the Mavericks.

SHARE Bad habits catch up with Bulls, who get 9-game winning streak snapped
Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber hoots against Bulls center Nikola Vucevic in the second half of Sunday’s game.

Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber hoots against Bulls center Nikola Vucevic in the second half of Sunday’s game.

Tim Heitman/AP

Coach Billy Donovan wasn’t trying to stain the Bulls’ nine-game winning streak. Considering all the Bulls have been through in the last month, it was a good accomplishment.

There’s a bigger picture for Donovan, however, and he’s not really into what he called ‘‘some little winning streak.’’

‘‘I’ve been talking about this a little bit,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I’m hoping it’s something we can get better from.’’

On a night the Bulls faced a team that was playing the best defense in the league in the last three weeks, the unsustainable outside shooting caught up with them. Just like that, the winning streak was over.

The Mavericks outplayed the Bulls on both ends of the floor in a 113-99 victory in Dallas. Luka Doncic led the way with a triple-double of 22 points, 14 assists and 14 rebounds.

‘‘It’s a game I’m hopeful that we can get better from and grow from in terms of watching film and seeing areas we were maybe able to get away with some things that we couldn’t get away with [Sunday],’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Not that the [players] were intentionally trying to get away with them, but things are going to be a bit more challenging.’’

Since returning from five games in the NBA’s health-and-safety protocols, Donovan has publicly — and privately, undoubtedly — emphasized to his players that all was not as it seemed during the hot streak.

The Bulls were red-hot from three-point range, played a lot of teams missing key players and hadn’t really been challenged defensively. That allowed them to roll despite some bad habits, especially on the defensive side, and it was obviously bothering Donovan.

‘‘You cannot always measure yourself just because you’ve been getting the outcome,’’ Donovan said.

The good news for the Bulls was that the loss didn’t cost them much. Sure, their longest winning streak since April 2011 was over, but the Bulls remained atop the Eastern Conference at 26-11.

‘‘We just didn’t play well enough to win, and they played a very good game,’’ center Nikola Vucevic said. ‘‘I don’t think [the streak was] something we talked about much. We were just trying to continue to get better, continue to work on things.

‘‘A lot of different areas we can work on [defensively]. I just don’t think the defense is consistent enough throughout games.’’

It’s not easy when key defensive pieces are in and out of the lineup, but the entire NBA has been dealing with that. Donovan didn’t want that to be an excuse.

The defensive miscues happened all game against the Mavericks, but they stood out in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls trailed by 15 with 4:47 left and were trying to make one final push. DeMar DeRozan made a mid-range jumper, but the Mavericks responded with an easy layup by Jalen Brunson.

The Mavericks then got a three-pointer from Dorian Finney-Smith and an uncontested layup from Doncic, leading Donovan to pull his starters with 2:21 left.

Donovan said he Sunday would serve as a little wake-up call.

‘‘We’ve got to look at the totality of where we’re really at,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Where are we heading and where are we going? How are we trending?’’

DeRozan and Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 20 points each.

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