Bulls remain work in progress when facing teams with winning percentages of .600 or better
Teams with a .600-or-better winning percentage owned the Bulls last season. But while this team hasn’t been as consistent overall, it has shown an ability to hang tough against the NBA’s best.
It wasn’t just the 3-25 record.
That was embarrassing enough for the Bulls to suffer through when going against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better last season.
What cut even deeper, however, was that many of those 25 losses weren’t even close. That’s why the Bulls were the only playoff team in the Eastern Conference last season with a negative point differential.
That was an indictment not only of the Bulls’ effort against the NBA’s elite but of their talent level. You’d better believe that was discussed more than a few times during the offseason.
‘‘One of the things we talked about before the season started was, against those top four teams in the East and the West, we didn’t play particularly well,’’ coach Billy Donovan said.
And while executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas opted for ‘‘continuity’’ by leaving the starting group intact, the front office focused on the Bulls’ depth.
Seventeen games into the season, that depth has given the Bulls a promising bench and is one of the reasons their ugly record against upper-echelon teams already has begun to change.
The Bulls are 3-3 against teams that entered play Tuesday with a .600 winning percentage or better and are responsible for two of the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics’ four losses.
That’s not the only impressive thing on the Bulls’ résumé, either. They also have victories against projected playoff teams such as the Heat and Raptors.
So the Bulls’ 7-10 record isn’t an indictment of their talent, like it was last season, as much as it is of their effort.
Guard Zach LaVine said that’s fixable.
‘‘We’re a really good team, but we go through lapses where we play bad,’’ he said. ‘‘We don’t want to dig ourselves into too deep of a hole where you’re just hoping and praying. We’re a good-enough team to make it up with the players and talent we have.’’
That’s about to be tested once again, with the Bulls starting a six-game road trip Wednesday in Milwaukee. After the Bucks (12-4), it’s the Thunder (7-10), the Jazz (12-7), the Suns (10-6), the Warriors (8-10) and the Kings (9-6). That’s four teams with winning percentages of .600 or better, the defending champion Warriors and a Thunder team that fights from tipoff to final horn.
During that time, Donovan is hoping to find out exactly what he has rounding the quarter mark of the season.
‘‘I know our record is what it is at this point in time, but I think outside of maybe the Cleveland game [a 32-point blowout loss], some of these teams like Boston, we’ve been very competitive with them,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Same thing with Toronto, Miami [in] the first game of the year. I think we’ve been way more competitive in those games than we were a year ago.’’
It’s no secret why. The Bulls’ starting five will go into the game against the Bucks a combined minus-220 in plus/minus, but usual reserves Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr. and Andre Drummond are a combined plus-206. (For some perspective, the Bucks’ starters are a combined plus-367.)
Head-shaking? Absolutely. But, like LaVine, forward DeMar DeRozan thinks it’s fixable. This road trip would be a good place for that to start.
‘‘I’d rather be going through our struggles now because games like [the victory Monday against the Celtics], we realize we can compete with anybody,’’ DeRozan said. ‘‘I really believe once we catch that rhythm, that confidence of playing at a high level, it’s going to be consistent.’’