Can Bulls make playoffs without composure, consistency or established identity?

Billy Donovan’s team is seven games below .500 at the All-Star break and two games behind the 10th-place Raptors for the last spot in the play-in tournament.

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Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Bulls’ postseason hopes are in jeo-pardy, but that’s been true for a while now. They’re seven games below .500 at the All-Star break and two games behind the 10th-place Raptors for the last play-in tournament spot in the Eastern Conference.

More concerning than that, though, is this week’s acknowledgment from maximum-contract guard Zach LaVine that the Bulls don’t have an identity — and it’s holding them back.

“Even if guys are in and out of the lineup, you see some teams that have consistency with what they do,” LaVine said after Thursday night’s 112-100 loss to the Bucks, the Bulls’ sixth straight defeat. “They have an identity. That’s something we’re still trying to figure out. Obviously, we changed our offense a little bit this year from last year. But it’s no excuse with the type of talent we have on the team.”

LaVine’s remarks came in response to a question about the Bulls’ waning offense. Their offensive rating is 24th in the NBA after they’ve gone 3-6 in February.

Five times this season, they’ve blown a lead of 16 points or greater, including a 24-point lead in Wednesday night’s

117-113 loss to the Pacers, which matched the second-largest blown lead in the NBA this season. In fact, the Bulls are in the top five of that list three times, having also blown 21-point leads against the Pacers and Cavaliers in January.

Coach Billy Donovan and the players have cited a number of issues, the most common being a lack of composure and consistency when opponents push back.

“That’s been our problem all year — up big in games and find a way to lose them,” LaVine said. “We have to stop beating ourselves. It’s a recurring theme. One through 15, the guys are tired of losing, the miscues in games that we’re leading.”

The Bulls face an uphill battle coming out of the break, but there will be immediate opportunities to regain control of their playoff pursuits. After hosting the Nets on Friday, they face the Wizards at home and the Raptors on the road to close out the month.

There’s still a belief within the team, echoed by LaVine and Donovan after the Bucks loss, that the Bulls are capable of making the playoffs. The issue is that they have no clear answer on what, exactly, needs to change.

“If you don’t expect to [win], you have to find some way somehow,” LaVine said. “Obviously, we’re a game or two out of the play-in right now. [We have to] just try and go day by day, game by game and see where we go from there.”

The best thing going for the Bulls is the extended downtime before they play the Nets. Rest will be critical in getting them back to full strength. Donovan had no expectations about whether DeMar DeRozan (thigh), Goran Dragic (left knee) and Derrick Jones Jr. (left adductor) will be ready to go by next Friday, although DeRozan was expected to appear in the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Beyond rest, though, this group might benefit from time away from each other. The struggle to explain inexplicable errors that have given them the seventh-worst record in the NBA appears exhausting — as does searching for an identity 59 games into the season.

Maybe they’ll have answers on the other side of the break. But the safer assumption when it comes to these Bulls is more inconsistency.

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