Better late than never for Bulls’ offense? Coach Billy Donovan hopes so

Donovan knew the Bulls’ offense last season wasn’t sustainable, so he made some philosophical changes. Since the All-Star break, it appears the players finally are understanding what’s being asked of them. So what took so long?

SHARE Better late than never for Bulls’ offense? Coach Billy Donovan hopes so
Patrick Beverley and Billy Donovan.

It took far too long this season, but Bulls coach Billy Donovan feels like his players finally understand what’s being asked of them offensively. That will be tested the final week of the regular season.

Nell Redmond/AP

The Bulls didn’t practice Saturday.

Practice really doesn’t matter much at this point of the season. Building chemistry, adding new sets and ironing out kinks are nice thoughts, but with the regular season ending a week from Sunday and five games left, it’s all about grinding out victories by any means necessary.

Coach Billy Donovan is confident his players — especially the starting five — finally understand what’s being asked of them offensively and, more important, are looking at it the same way.

What took so long? There’s plenty of blame for that to go around, but there also have been some unlucky circumstances.

After the Bulls got off to a solid start last season, injuries to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso limited what they had built defensively. Then as Zach LaVine’s injuries stacked up (thumb, left knee), the offense became all about DeMar DeRozan.

‘‘I think we became so predictable and DeMar-centric,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘You knew that was just not going to be sustainable, and clearly it was not against the better teams.’’

It was an all-too-familiar storyline through the second half of last season and into the first-round playoff series against the Bucks. It was DeRozan or bust, and better teams — especially better defenses — found that too easy to defend.

That’s why Donovan knew the focus going into this season had to be on putting an offensive philosophy in place in which there was more randomness throughout the game and on saving isolations for late, if needed.

That meant having to break some bad habits, as well as finding a veteran point guard (Patrick Beverley) who understood getting teammates on the same page.

There’s a reason the Bulls are 11-7 since adding Beverley and have become a top offensive team in the league during that time.

Entering Saturday, the Bulls’ 119.1 offensive rating was the ninth-best in the NBA since the All-Star break, with the Kings atop that category at 125.3.

‘‘I think the thing that’s taken us a little bit of time is having the group collectively look at offense the same way,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I think the reason that Golden State has been very good, besides having great players, is their main guys are all on the same page of how they’re going to play the game — the give-and-take, the cohesiveness of working together.

‘‘I had gotten asked a lot through the course of this year, certainly when we were struggling: Do you feel that these guys are so frustrated that they’re letting go of the rope or throwing in the towel? I never felt that way. I felt like they were fighting and trying to figure things out.’’

That fight is about to be tested.

The No. 10 Bulls trail the No. 9 Raptors and No. 8 Hawks by a game in the East and face three games in four days in their quest to improve their position for the play-in tournament. They host the Grizzlies on Sunday and the Hawks on Tuesday before visiting the Bucks on Wednesday.

Then comes a road game Friday against the Mavericks before what should be a breather in the regular-season finale at home against the Pistons.

‘‘We had to change things defensively; we couldn’t keep playing defense that way,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘And we had to take a jump offensively. Sometimes when you try and do that, you go [downward] first. I think we’re playing more to where they’re kind of all in the flow, understanding roles.

‘‘To me, it’s that risk you’ve got to take.’’

The Latest
A group was standing in the 2900 block of East 90th Street about 10:05 p.m. when someone fired shots, police said.
The shooting happened in the 1600 block of West Howard Street, police said.
The man, alcoholic and unemployed, calls to tell 4-year-old daughter he’s coming to see her but never does.
Thinking ahead to your next few meals? Here are some main dishes and sides to try.
The Cubs have a 14-18 record in one-run games.