Bulls coach Billy Donovan wasn’t looking for perfection Friday night — just certain boxes checked, certain good habits reinforced.
More three-pointers? Check.
High-quality drive-and-kick threes? Check.
Sharing the ball? Check.
Less fouling and better defense? Well, it’s the dog days of the season, and the Bulls are still a work in progress.
The beauty of it is they’re also still winning. Their 130-122 handling of the Wizards at the United Center not only gave them a nine-game winning streak — their longest since April 2011 — but kept them atop the Eastern Conference by 2½ games with the Bucks beating the Nets. At 26-10, the Bulls have the fourth-best record in the NBA.
Donovan, who picked up his 300th NBA coaching win Friday, can get behind this recipe, especially on offense. The Bulls finished with at least 130 points for the third time in the last six games. They were 15-for-33 from three-point range and had 34 assists.
“I’d like for us to take some more [threes],” Donovan said. “If we did that, we’d be good. But I think one of the areas we need to get better at is we’ve got to get better at playing downhill. I think when you get downhill, you force rotation, you force a second defender into the paint to help. That’s when your spray-out threes start to come.
“I don’t love just saying randomly, ‘Hey, we’ve got to take more threes.’ I don’t think all threes are created equally. There’s certain threes that are just bad, in my opinion. You’ve got to get the right ones.”
There were a lot of those, with Lonzo Ball hitting six himself. Fellow guard Coby White went 4-for-4 from long range.
But defense and fouling continued to be an issue for the Bulls. The Wizards were 25-for-26 from the line.
“There’s going to be some nights where we go against top-five, top-10 defensive teams where points are hard to come by and it becomes kind of a grind-out kind of game, and you’ve got to have something that you can control to fall back on,” Donovan said.
The Bulls expect to regain some of that control once guard Alex Caruso comes out of the COVID-19 safety protocols — possibly next week — and the Bulls have multiple elite defenders in their backcourt.
“I think when you start talking about point-of-the-screen defense, pick-and-rolls, certainly I do think there is an individual talent component to defense,” Donovan said. “The adage that you’ve got to play hard, yeah, that’s part of it, but there’s also a technique part of it. Lonzo is really good at it. Alex is really good at it.”
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 27 points while White chipped in 21 off the bench and Ayo Dosunmu added 18. It was White’s third game of at least 20 points in his last four.
“I think Coby is a winning player,” Donovan said. “He has a lot of great qualities, and he’s had to adjust quite a bit, but I think Coby is just a basketball player. It’s been great being around him with that type of mentality.”
White was happy to hear that assessment.
“I think it’s dope,” he said. “I feel like I’m making strides in all areas.”