Bulls prepared to continue the winning push after the All-Star break

The sacrifices have been many for the Bulls, as the league pauses for All-Star Weekend. Don’t expect the asking price for winning to change after the break, either. Coach Billy Donovan won’t allow it, and veteran DeMar DeRozan won’t stand for it.

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Bulls coach Billy Donovan has asked a lot from his players this season, and DeMar DeRozan and his teammates have been delivering.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan has asked a lot from his players this season, and DeMar DeRozan and his teammates have been delivering.

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There’s a reason coach Billy Donovan felt compelled to use words such as “grateful’’ and “appreciative’’ when describing his feelings toward his players.

He realizes that he has asked a lot of his team as the Bulls reached the All-Star break.

He has asked numerous guys to play out of position, often being on the wrong side of a mismatch, he has asked rookies and veterans to play heavy minutes and he has asked borderline role players to step up and be starters when the injury situation has called for it.

And just because the Bulls finished the first chapter of the season in or near the Eastern Conference penthouse, don’t think for a second that Donovan is done asking for a lot.

“I’d like to see what this group can do whole,’’ Donovan said Wednesday, looking ahead to the final push.

That’s something he actually might start seeing.

The Bulls will come out of All-Star Weekend likely healthier, with Zach LaVine (left knee) expected back in the lineup and Patrick Williams (wrist surgery), Lonzo Ball (knee surgery) and Alex Caruso (wrist surgery) not that far behind.

Adding veteran big man Tristan Thompson to help with the rebounding and rim protection could prove to be key, especially against a rough schedule in the last 23 regular-season games.

But Donovan knows his group can’t go without being challenged, especially in the East, where there are a lot of very good teams that, like the Bulls, are trying to get whole and figure themselves out.

Challenging this group already has worked.

After a dismal showing by the starters in a Feb. 7 loss to the Suns, Donovan looked at the remaining five games leading into the break, saw how winnable they were and let his players know the difference between championship teams and wannabes.

“Coach kind of set out a challenge for us five games ago, letting us know if you want to be a great team at this point, take on a challenge in closing out this half of the season with the next five games,’’ All-Star DeMar DeRozan said. “We took on that challenge, and we were 5-0. Now we can recharge and get close to getting everybody back and come back with fresh minds and fresh bodies and attack this thing.’’

That hasn’t been an issue for DeRozan.

In a first half of great storylines, whether it was Chicago’s own Ayo Dosunmu or how well executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas flipped the roster from last season, no one’s star has shined brighter than DeRozan’s.

At 32, he’s not only playing the best basketball of his career, he’s proving to be a legitimate MVP candidate, erasing team and league records.

DeRozan surpassed Wilt Chamberlain on Wednesday, putting together seven straight games of 35-plus points on at least 50% shooting from the field.

But the record he is most proud of? The 5-2 win-loss record during that span.

DeRozan doesn’t just talk about winning; he’s teaching this group winning with his words and his actions.

“I’m just completely locked in as soon as I come to work, understanding I want to be able to leave with a win by all means necessary,’’ DeRozan said. “I stand on that, and I try to challenge myself every single day no matter how I feel, no matter if I’m having a personal good day or bad day.

‘‘When I come to work, the only thing that matters is getting a victory. I try to lock in and do whatever I’ve got to do. Lock in and be that positive leader, be an example [in] playing hard and doing what you are there to do, which is compete at the highest level.’’

That’s a mentality Donovan can truly appreciate.

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