Bulls’ latest loss is exactly what Billy Donovan has been warning

The coach has been saying since the start of the season that this year was going to be even “harder than last.’’ Friday’s overtime loss in Oklahoma City was evidence of that.

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DeMar DeRozan

None of this has caught Billy Donovan off guard. Maybe that’s why he sounded more sage than coach from Day 1 of training camp.

“I knew this year was going to be a lot harder than last year. I just knew what was coming, and I’m not surprised,” Donovan has said several times, including last week.

Further evidence was on display in the overtime loss Friday night in Oklahoma City. More defensive lulls, more careless turnovers and failing to take advantage of mismatches.

“We’ve just got to be able to stay the course and respond,” Donovan said. “Like I said, this wasn’t going to be easy.’’

It’s not an excuse for the 8-11 record, but what Donovan and his staff have been trying to do on offense is change habits. Not only habits from last season, but habits several players have had for years.

Put simply by Donovan, if the Bulls want to reach the second round of the playoffs — where executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas has set the bar — they need to be less DeMar DeRozan-centric.

“DeMar took us as far as he can take us, and we really have to look at, ‘How can we make another step or jump?’ ’’ Donovan said. “If we get back to that, where it’s all [isolations] all the time, it just gets too easy to defend. This is going to take some time offensively for us to play the way we need to play, which is a little bit different.’’

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to lean on DeRozan, especially late in games. Crunch time often comes down to isolation basketball, my best against your best. Since last season, there have been few better than DeRozan in fourth-quarter scoring and hero moments. Donovan just doesn’t want everyone standing around and hoping DeRozan can throw the cape on and carry the day.

So while back-to-back victories over the Celtics and Bucks last week are considered the signature wins of the young season, Donovan might point to the game Nov. 7 against the Raptors. The Bulls got 35 points from the bench and 30 from Zach LaVine, while youngsters Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu combined for 22.

DeRozan had nine points, including 5-for-6 shooting from the free-throw line and six rebounds. But the real kicker was his seven assists. That didn’t include the hockey assists that led to a basket because of DeRozan’s presence and spacing.

The bigger picture: In the Bulls’ eight wins, DeRozan averaged 22.6 points and 5.6 assists. In the 11 losses, he averaged 28.7 points and 3.7 assists.

Compare that to LaVine, who is averaging 22.3 points per game in wins and 19.9 points in losses.

So is less of DeRozan actually more in Donovan’s new-look offense? Not necessarily. The coach wants better spacing — that’s why Nikola Vucevic already has found himself with career numbers in corner threes — but also doesn’t want the ball sticking to one player too long.

The fourth quarter in the win at Milwaukee was a film gem that Donovan also could point to. DeRozan, who had 36 points and a team-high eight assists, scored just five points in the quarter.

Fast-forward to overtime in the loss to the Thunder. LaVine, Vucevic and DeRozan were the only three to take shots — although LaVine and Vucevic only put up three-pointers — and DeRozan was the only one who scored, shooting 3-for-6.

Easily defended; difficult to win.

So was the loss in Oklahoma City really a shocker? For some. Just not Donovan.

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