Bulls coach Billy Donovan does his best to defend team from idea it’s soft

Donovan knows the Bulls have trouble stopping the “bleeding,” especially late in games. The hope is there’s still enough time left in the season to turn it around.

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Bulls head coach Billy Donovan reacts after receiving a technical foul during the second half of Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan reacts after receiving a technical foul during the second half of Saturday’s game against the Cavaliers.

Ron Schwane/AP

CLEVELAND — At least someone other than guard Alex Caruso was willing to play some defense for the Bulls.

Then again, coach Billy Donovan didn’t have much of a choice.

After the Bulls blew yet another fourth-quarter lead in their loss Saturday to the Cavaliers, Donovan fielded questions about his team’s softness.

‘‘I would just say sitting in my chair, my seat, being around these guys, I think when you see the work they do when they come in, the way they try and figure things out, the way they try and get better, I just see things that — to me — signify character,’’ Donovan said when he was asked about the Bulls’ lack of toughness.

‘‘To me, the experience in certain situations, the taking care of the ball, the experienced IQ plays, sometimes we’re short on those when we have to understand time, score, possession. ‘We just had two bad ones — whoa, whoa, whoa.’ They have to get better in those basketball moments.

‘‘And in a lot of ways — the word you’re using is ‘soft’ — I think a lot of it is them learning how to stop bleeding.’’

There might not be enough bandages or time to apply them all.

With 26 games left in the regular season, the Bulls (26-30) look far from able to meet the second-round playoff expectations executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas put on them at the start of the season.

They do have the sixth-easiest schedule left in the Eastern Conference, but with as many disappointing finishes as they already have had, strength of schedule gets thrown out the window.

The latest evidence of that came Saturday against a Cavaliers team that had played late Friday in New Orleans and didn’t arrive back home until 5 a.m. Eastern time. Meanwhile, the Bulls had a day off Friday in Cleveland and shouldn’t have been the team that looked worn down in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls led for most of the game until Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell made a three-pointer with 9:54 left, seemingly sending them into a spiral.

That has been an issue with the Bulls, even going back to last season: When adversity hits, they seldom throw a counterpunch. It’s almost as though they have become so used to the pending meltdown that they think it into existence.

‘‘Me personally, no, but I can’t speak for everyone,’’ center Nikola Vucevic said when he was asked if the players fall too easily into a ‘‘here we go again’’ mindset. ‘‘We’re not detailed enough in our execution. We make too many careless mistakes, and you can’t do that at this level. We talk about it, we just don’t do it. Unless we start doing it, it’s not going to happen for us.

‘‘Teams are too good in this league and players are too good in this league, and that’s the margin. Talent-wise, some teams have more, but it’s not a big gap. Where the really big difference comes in is, how good are you at executing on both ends of the floor and end-of-game when it really matters? And that’s where we don’t do a good job. We’re so loose and go through the motions a lot, and that’s when it starts to hurt us.’’

So is there time for the Bulls to turn this around? Donovan hopes so.

‘‘I think we can,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes us trying to make that extra play is where we fall short. When you get so predictable with Zach [LaVine] and DeMar [DeRozan] every time down the floor, it becomes a lot easier to guard. And the rest of the group is not involved.’’

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