Bulls’ leadership being tested as team starts looking for victories

The Bulls’ success always has rested on the shoulders of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. Now it’s up to that “Big Three” to get them out of their rough patch.

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As the Bulls continue to struggle, the “Big Three’ of (from left) Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan will fall under greater scrutiny.

As the Bulls continue to struggle, the “Big Three’ of (from left) Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan will fall under greater scrutiny.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Bulls’ ‘‘Big Three’’ have been under the microscope — collectively and individually — since the regular season tipped off in October.

Big man Nikola Vucevic entered the season in the final year of his contract, forward DeMar DeRozan was looking to continue to keep Father Time at bay and guard Zach LaVine was fresh off signing a five-year, $215 million max contract over the summer.

While all three have had some inconsistent moments so far, coach Billy Donovan said they all have remained leaders in and out of the locker room.

‘‘When all three of those guys speak, the younger guys are attentive,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘All three of those guys, in their own way, spend time with those young guys.’’

That leadership again is going to be tested.

The Bulls enter their game Wednesday against the Wizards with a 9-14 record. They are fresh off a six-game road trip that started with a victory against the Bucks and was followed by losses in four of the next five games.

They have been inconsistent on both ends of the court, and for the first time under Donovan one of the ‘‘Big Three’’ expressed frustration with how the season has played out so far.

Not only did LaVine pick up a late-game technical Sunday against the Kings, but he quickly stormed off the court as the final horn sounded, ignoring his teammates as he walked by them.

‘‘Sometimes your emotions come out,’’ he said after the game. ‘‘It’s us vs. everybody. No one is going to help us dig out of this besides us. That’s how we’ve got to go about it.’’

It will be worth watching how LaVine goes about it.

The two-time All-Star is coming off his first real LaVine-like game of the season, scoring 41 points to go with eight rebounds and four steals. But there seems to be some lingering tension between LaVine and Donovan going back to the loss Nov. 18 to the Magic, in which Donovan benched LaVine for the final few minutes.

‘‘That’s Billy’s decision; he’s gotta lay with it,’’ LaVine said afterward. ‘‘Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me, even if I miss some shots. That’s his decision, and he’s got to stand on it.’’

Donovan did, with the two talking it out and seemingly getting on the same page.

Then, after the Bulls’ embarrassing performance last Wednesday against the Suns, Donovan shuffled the starting lineup by moving Alex Caruso and Javonte Green in and Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams out.

LaVine was asked about Donovan saying a change was necessary in the wake of the Bulls’ showing against the Suns and responded: ‘‘Nah, nah. I think that was his opinion.’’

A passive-aggressive poke? Possibly. Again, however, it gets back to the frustration level of a team with expectations of playing better than it has to date.

There is some good news, however, in that DeRozan has LaVine’s ear. The Bulls have no plans to move on from Donovan or LaVine anytime soon, so this seems to be more of a strain than a fracture in the relationship. It can be fixed with some big-brother type of advice from DeRozan and, more important, with winning.

On paper, at least, victories should start coming. The Bulls have faced one of the tougher schedules in the NBA to date — not only in terms of competition, but also in terms of how many games were condensed into the first six weeks.

As of Tuesday, however, only the Pistons, Heat and Celtics have easier schedules than the Bulls for the rest of the season.

It will be up to the ‘‘Big Three’’ to start turning it around against the Wizards.

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