Margins of victory highlight Bulls’ ongoing issues on defense

The Bulls’ 112.7 defensive rating has them 17th in the league with a tough stretch of games coming up.

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Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu makes a dunk against Bulls center Andre Drummond (3), left, and forward DeMar DeRozan (11) on Dec. 21, 2022, in Atlanta.

Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongwu makes a dunk against Bulls center Andre Drummond (3), left, and forward DeMar DeRozan (11) on Dec. 21, 2022, in Atlanta.

Erik Rank/AP

The margins were small for the Bulls in their previous two games, but they won both.

Their 10-point win against the Heat was the largest margin of victory for coach Billy Donovan’s team during the three-game winning streak, the Bulls’ longest of the season, that was snapped by the Rockets on Monday. Against the Hawks and Knicks, the games could’ve gone either way, and that’s something Donovan didn’t shy away from.

“Obviously, Ayo [Dosunmu] made a great play at the end [of the Bulls’ 110-108 victory against the Hawks],” Donovan said. “The Knicks situation, [Jalen] Brunson misses two free throws at the end. We would’ve had the ball back, potentially down three. We’ve been in some of those situations, Orlando particularly, where we’re up by two with free throws and miss the free throws.”

Donovan doesn’t necessarily like the small margins of victory, but he was pleased with how his team is competing on both ends of the floor. Just over a week ago, that was a glaring concern as the Bulls opened a four-game trip giving up 150 points to the Timberwolves, a franchise record for Minnesota.

That brings up Donovan’s lingering concerns. They start and end with his team’s defense.

“Offensively, we’ve gotten better,” Donovan said. “I’m a little bit concerned defensively. I think that’s gone the other way. There was a time when we were seventh; we were pretty consistent. Then when you give up 150 points, that’s going to crush your rating.”

The Bulls’ 112.7 defensive rating had them 17th in the league with a tough stretch coming up, including a home game against the Bucks, two games against the Cavaliers, a home game against the Nets and road games against the 76ers and Celtics.

Injury bug

Forward Javonte Green was a game-time decision after going through shootaround Monday morning feeling well, but he was eventually ruled out against the Rockets.

Donovan said the nagging swelling and soreness in his right knee that has sidelined him for eight games had subsided, but the Bulls’ medical staff wanted to assess him after his pregame routine.

Donovan didn’t know the exact timetable for guard Alex Caruso’s return but had a promising update on his status after he suffered a concussion and sprained his right shoulder against the Hawks last Wednesday.

“He’s gone through a series of concussion-protocol stuff, which he has passed,” Donovan said. “The next part of him passing the concussion protocol is him doing some form of contact.”

Caruso’s shoulder sprain has limited his ability to participate and take contact. So it’s his shoulder that’s holding him back more so than the concussion, Donovan said.

Donovan didn’t elaborate but added that Caruso was experiencing concussion symptoms in New York. He didn’t begin tests until the team returned to Chicago.

Two bigs

Donovan went with a fresh pairing in the 118-117 victory Friday over the Knicks, using Andre Drummond and Nikola Vucevic on the court together for the first time.

There were two factors that went into Donovan’s decision: injuries and the Knicks thrashing the Bulls on the boards in the teams’ previous meeting. The Bulls allowed the Knicks to score 14 points on 15 offensive rebounds in the second of their back-to-back losses to Tom Thibodeau’s team.

It doesn’t sound like a pairing Donovan will be using often, however.

“I don’t know if that lineup is necessarily something we would have done if they would have played with four guards or a power forward that’s a little bit smaller,” Donovan said. “The way it worked out, we were able to do that.”

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