Bulls have two games left to try to reconnect before playoffs

It hasn’t been pretty for weeks, especially against the NBA’s elite teams. That doesn’t mean the Bulls can’t find something or at least learn something as the league’s “second season” is set to start. But they better hurry.

SHARE Bulls have two games left to try to reconnect before playoffs
Coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls have two games left to solve their issues before the playoffs start.

Coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls have two games left to solve their issues before the playoffs start.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

The Bulls have two games to reconnect.

Guard Zach LaVine wasn’t sure how or in which of the final two regular-season games it might happen, but he knows there is very little choice.

‘‘It’s hard to play when we’re disconnected like this, and the result shows,’’ LaVine said after the Bulls’ latest embarrassing loss Wednesday, this time to the Celtics. ‘‘Offensively and defensively, we’re disconnected right now. We’re trying to figure out how to get back in rhythm because we’re not looking like the same team we were earlier.

‘‘That’s upsetting. We obviously have shown it — that fight, that hunger — but we look like a totally different team right now, so we’ve got to hurry up and get back to what we were doing and not hope and wish.

‘‘I’m optimistic we can because, if I’m not, what are we doing this for?’’

It’s a fair question. The way the Bulls have played against the NBA’s elite, what are they doing this for?

Coach Billy Donovan has his take on it — or at least what he hopes will come out of it. And it might not be something the Bulls can display until next season or maybe longer.

‘‘There’s a fight that you have to have this time of year,’’ Donovan said, ‘‘because you’re fighting for margins. When we have these huge losses, Milwaukee and Boston understand the margins. And they’re fighting like crazy for them. And we’ve gotten dominated on the margins. That’s why we’ve lost by 20.’’

And it’s not just to those two teams. Against pretty much all the elite teams in both conferences, there has been a concerning pattern.

It’s not a pattern that’s only a few weeks old, either; it has been going on for most of the season. Of the teams considered contenders to play for at least a conference title, the last one the Bulls beat was the Mavericks on Nov. 10. They are 3-22 against teams with a .600 winning percentage or better.

To Donovan’s credit, he fired multiple warning shots throughout the season that trouble was coming. He did so in January, when the Bulls were riding out a nine-game winning streak, and he did it again just out of the All-Star break. He saw a team that was losing its defensive edge and relying on hot shooting against average to subpar competition.

Then there were the injuries to LaVine and fellow guards Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball. And even though Caruso and LaVine have returned, they both look less than 100% from game to game.

‘‘We’re not as bad as we’ve played; we’re not,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘But you know what? We probably weren’t as good when we went on a nine-game winning streak. Probably the truth is somewhere in the middle.’’

In any case, the Bulls need to find a way to get back on track Friday against the Hornets or in the regular-season finale Sunday against the Timberwolves. Find that first, then be prepared to take the next step.

‘‘What I am saying is there is a growth period that you have to become tougher, nastier,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘You just become hardened and understand what it’s all about.

‘‘I’ve loved these guys. They’ve been great. And what they’re going through is going to be very valuable in terms of helping them grow. But there’s a lot that goes into this. And it can’t be, ‘Sorry, it’s my fault.’ Those things add up over a period of time.’’

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