Bulls are starting to get defensive, and that includes the ‘Big Three’

Coach Billy Donovan challenged DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic after an embarrassing loss to Orlando last week, and they responded with impressive wins over Boston and Milwaukee.

SHARE Bulls are starting to get defensive, and that includes the ‘Big Three’
Patrick Williams

Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan will never be mistaken for a defensive stopper.

Even in his younger days, he’d rarely be the guy a coach would turn to and say, “Go ahead and lock ’em down.’’

DeRozan is crafty, however.

The Bucks found that out Wednesday. DeRozan drew two huge offensive fouls against Bobby Portis and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Then to top it off, he blocked 7-1 Brook Lopez’s shot.

DeRozan’s scoring in that third quarter — 18 points — was just another masterpiece to add to the collection, but his defensive dirty work will be the difference between the Bulls being a pretender or a contender in the spring.

“We’ve had some down moments,’’ DeRozan said after the Bulls’ 118-113 victory against Milwaukee. “Dropping games we felt we should’ve won . . . close games. Getting our butt whupped at home. We’ve gone through so many emotions already just 20 games into a season. Sometimes that’s beneficial. You gotta soak in that hurt and generate that over to being competitors. And I think that’s where we’re at right now.’’

The Bulls’ three veteran leaders — DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic — have responded to coach Billy Donovan’s challenge.

After an embarrassing home loss to the Magic last week, Donovan called them out, imploring them to improve their defense and to start and finish games with energy and urgency.

The Bulls answered with back-to-back wins against the Celtics and Bucks, the Eastern Conference’s elite teams.

“Losing the games we lost, we’ve been holding each other accountable,’’ DeRozan said. “Everybody has been speaking up in film sessions, practice. We’ve been on each other. We’ve been picking it up. I think we’re showing how bad we want it instead of just talking about it. That’s a testament to guys wanting to compete.’’

The Bulls have picked it up defensively, suddenly making life more difficult for opposing teams.

They turned the Celtics over 15 times, then turned the Bucks over 19 times and had 12 blocks. The Bulls also harassed Milwaukee from long range, holding them to 31.6% (12-for-38) shooting from three.

“This is proof that we can beat anyone and play with anyone in the league,’’ guard Coby White said. “It’s on us to be locked in and ready to play.’’

Last season, the No. 1 knock on the Bulls was that they handled all the teams they were supposed to beat but fell meekly against elite opponents. This season, they’re taking big swings at the better teams — they’ve already beaten the Heat, Celtics (twice) and now the Bucks — but have had low-energy moments against the lowly Magic and Spurs.

The stop in Milwaukee was the first on a six-game trip that continues against Oklahoma City, Utah, Phoenix, Golden State and Sacramento.

The hope is the defense that has been on display the last two games holds firm.

“We have to have the same mindset every game,’’ LaVine said. “Hopefully we can start taking these wins and stacking it up.’’

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