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Bulls wrap rollercoaster regular reason, focusing on Play-In vs. Hawks

From a brutal 5-14 start that featured subpar shooting to season-ending injuries to multiple stress points that might’ve fractured other teams, the Bulls got tested

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NEW YORK --- Resilience.

That was the theme emanating from the final postgame locker room of the regular season on Sunday in Madison Square Garden---six months after cohesiveness was the theme and preseason goal for training camp in Nashville, Tenn.

Like most teams, the Bulls endured their share of ups and downs over the ensuing 82 games and finished where they did last season---in the play-in game featuring the nine and 10 seeds. At least this time, the Bulls will host that game.

“I told the guys I couldn’t be prouder or feel more privileged to work with these guys every day,” coach Billy Donovan said. “And the reason I say that is because of things they’ve had to endure this season as a team.”

From a brutal 5-14 start that featured subpar shooting to season-ending injuries for Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams to multiple stress points that might’ve fractured other teams, the Bulls got tested. And they believe that resilience could pay off come Wednesday when they face the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center.

“To be honest, we had some lows that, for me, means the most,” DeMar DeRozan said. “I ain’t gonna give it away of when, but there was a time it got extremely rough for my part. The bond and the closeness we had after that meant a lot. So even though it was an extremely bad moment, it meant a lot for us to change over the season.

“I don’t look at whatever negatives happen as a bad thing because we bonded back from it in a whole different way if we didn’t have that moment.”

Sources said the incident DeRozan is referring to came earlier this season when he and Jevon Carter had a heated exchange during a film session. Perhaps to DeRozan’s point about the Bulls being closer now, DeRozan went to Carter’s locker directly after addressing reporters, and the two players could be seen laughing about something.

After their final regular season game, DeMar DeRozan looked back on how the season went and discussed the ups and downs they faced

“It’s been a helliva year, lot of ups and downs, lot of frustration. A lot of bad days, a lot of worse days, and a lot of good days. But this group, we stuck together. We stayed resilient,” DeRozan said. “We tried to figure it out. We didn’t make excuses when we felt like a black cat crossed in front of us or we broke a mirror or something. I’m proud of this group.”

Of course, while the fact the Bulls didn’t splinter should be lauded, the fact they remain stuck in the middle of the NBA will only make this offseason even more critical for management. Even if the Bulls win the play-in tournament, a first-round playoff matchup with the NBA-leading Boston Celtics would be the reward. And the Celtics swept the season series from the Bulls.

For all the talk about improving a 23rd-ranked offense, the Bulls’ 3-point shot profile didn’t improve---although the losses of LaVine and Williams, plus the continued absence of Lonzo Ball and multiple games missed by Torrey Craig contributed to that.

The Bulls finished with an offensive rating of 114, which ranked 19th. Their top-five defense from last season plummeted to 22nd, allowing 115.7 points per 100 possessions.

“Organizationally, is this where we want to be going forward? No, we want to be in a situation where you’re making deep playoff runs. We’re not that right now,” coach Billy Donovan said. “But I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting and competing and giving ourselves an opportunity to advance.”

Nikola Vucevic pointed to the Nov. 30 home overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks as a crucial point in the season. The Bulls had lost five straight, looking lethargic in several of those losses, and dropped to 5-14 on November 28 in Boston following a loss in which DeRozan and LaVine left with injuries.

“Definitely an interesting season. There was a lot going on. But I think what I’m most proud of is this team could stay resilient through it all, the really bad start, the really bad losses,” Vucevic said. “Since then, we’ve played much better, just not as consistent as we would like.

“We had very important guys have season-ending injuries. And through all that, we’ve been able to stay resilient, compete and get into the play-in. It’s not the position we envisioned at the beginning of the year. But it’s where we are and hopefully we can make the best of it.”

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