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Bulls keep hurting themselves with self-inflicted wounds

Botched alley-oop dunk is latest, most egregious example but there are plenty others

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Coby White put it bluntly.

"We can't have that at this point of the season as we're looking at the last three games of the season and then the play-in," the Chicago Bulls guard said late Tuesday. "Especially the guys who were here last year, we know how intense the play-in is. It's single-game elimination. So every little thing matters. Every detail matters."

"That" is the season-long habit of committed self-inflicted wounds which injure the Bulls' already small margin of error for victory.

It happened most egregiously in Tuesday's loss to the Knicks when veteran Torrey Craig said he tried to create some excitement with the crowd by throwing an alley-oop pass to himself off the backboard on a 3-on-0 breakaway. Instead, with the Bulls trailing by nine at the time, Andre Drummond thought the alley-oop was for him to reward him for a steal and went over the top of Craig, sending him crashing to the ground and the botched dunk ricocheting skyward.

"To me, it was just really disappointing," said coach Billy Donovan, who immediately called timeout to address the issue. "I don't care who he was throwing the ball to. We don't need to be doing that. I'm not going to get into everything I said on the bench. That's not what I'm about and it's not about what we should be about."

Donovan called the play "loud." And surely it will live on "Shaqtin' A Fool" highlights for awhile.

But as Donovan, White and Craig all alluded to, the Bulls have been guilty of lapses in judgment and detail all season. And with the one-and-done play-in tournament looming, that's not a a good habit to have this late in the season.

"We’ve been dealing with it all season,” Craig said. “And I take accountability with that, as well. Sometimes we let our emotions get the best of us. But it’s an emotional game, especially when you want to win, especially when you’re competitive. . . . We’ve just got to do a better job as a team of not letting it cost us in games.”

The Bulls have lost their composure at critical junctures of games all season. DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic have been ejected for losing their cool. Craig added to his botched alley-oop with a third-quarter technical foul that irked Donovan.

But they've also had lapses like the one where they allowed Donte DiVincenzo to slip free for a 45-foot halftime buzzer-beating 3-pointer right after White had jazzed the crowd with a steal and difficult, off-balance 3-pointer that had cut the Bulls' deficit to three points---and given White the single-season franchise record for 3-pointers over Zach LaVine.

Donovan also lamented the amount of backcuts the Bulls allowed to the Knicks defensively and Jalen Brunson's 12 trips to the free-throw line.

"We have to be better at times at knowing personnel," Donovan said. "As a staff, myself, we have to keep trying to help them be able to communicate better. To their credit, they're on it. They're talking about it. They're not oblivious to it. They know they need to be better."

Time is running out. And if Drummond misses any time with the left ankle injury he suffered on the return trip following the botched alley-oop, the Bulls' lack of size will be tested further. Especially since the Bulls just waived Terry Taylor, whom Donovan sometimes used as a small-ball center, to make room for Javonte Green. Two-way contract player Adama Sanogo filled that role briefly after Drummond went down.

The Bulls have played the most clutch minutes in the NBA this season. And their 26 clutch victories are tied with the Denver Nuggets for the most in the league.

So this team does have resilience at times, just as it has lapses. It will be intriguing to see which dynamic prevails come one-and-done, play-in tournament time.

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