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Bulls finish 9-5 December with improved play at both ends

Coby White said team never splintered during difficult first two months of season

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls looked dead to rights when they returned home from a fruitless 0-4 trip in late November, capped by an embarrassing blowout loss in Boston.

"I always say: You're going to have adversity, ups and downs," Coby White said. "We're all competitors. We play at the highest level. We all want to win.

"That Boston game, we feel like we didn't compete as a team. We didn't come out ready to play and we got blown out. To lose in that fashion hurt us. That's embarrassing for us to lose like that at the highest. But we stayed together.

"At that moment, when adversity hit and we were at our lowest this season, we could've all grew apart. Instead of doing that, we all came together. I think that contributes to how we played in the month of December."

The month of December is over, capped by Saturday's 105-92 victory over a Philadelphia 76ers team without Joel Embiid. The Bulls went 9-5 on the month, pushing them into the play-in picture.

And White thinks there's room for improvement.

"I think defensively we're making strides but we can always be better defending with five, helping each other," White said. "We can play more consistently. As AC (Alex Caruso) always says, sometimes we have lapses where we don't play to our identity. We don't move the ball. We don't defend with five. You take away those lapses and we have a better chance."

The numbers don't lie.

Even with this turnaround beginning with a stirring overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the final game of November, the Bulls ranked 26th in offense with an offensive rating of 108.8 through the season's first two months. Their defensive rating of 115.2 ranked 21st. And their net rating of minus-6.4 stood at 24th.

In December, the Bulls improved their offensive rating to 117.3, which ranks 16th, and their defensive rating to 114.1, which ranks ninth. Their net rating of plus-3.2 is ninth-best for the month with six games scheduled for Sunday.

"We competed," White said. "There were some ones we wish we could've got back. The season didn't start the way we wanted it to but we're always positive and everyone here wants to see each other succeed. When you have teammates like that, it's going to flip sooner or later."

The Bulls placed five players in double figures against the 76ers. They had multiple games with seven players in double figures this month and one even with eight. Scoring balance has defined this improved play.

"Being unselfish and everyone is ready to contribute," White said. "We're playing the right way. We're moving the ball. The coaching staff has been on us about being ready to play. (Coach) Billy (Donovan) gives everyone confidence. Be yourself. Play within the game. And have that confidence when that ball does come to you to go do what you're supposed to with it."

The next step is for the Bulls to continue playing on this upward trend when Zach LaVine returns from his right foot inflammation. Donovan said LaVine, who last played on that Nov. 28 night in Boston, could begin practicing next week.

The Bulls also face a tough January, with 10 of the 15 games on the road. This unselfish offensive style and connected defensive style must stay present to weather that stretch.

"I think it's the only way and the right way for us to play," Donovan said. "When you're trying to create an identity, it's hard to do it night in and night out. But we have to work at it. Is it sustainable? Yes. But we have to put the work in to get down the floor, to flatten the floor out, to get the ball moving, to try to get the ball ahead of the defense.

"There are nights---the Denver game, the Cleveland game---where we were a step slow. We have to push through those moments. The guys understand what we have to do. We can play that way and that's the way we have to play to be effective and more difficult to guard as a team."

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