LaVine, DeRozan vow to rally Bulls as losses pile up


SACRAMENTO — When reporters entered the postgame locker room following the Chicago Bulls’ 110-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings that concluded a 2-4 trip on Sunday, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan sat side by side, talking.

LaVine had scored a season-high 41 points throughout a feisty performance that featured a technical foul, several animated gestures towards officials and a beeline to the locker room without stopping for anything, the sting of the Bulls dropping to a season-low five games under .500 consuming him.

DeRozan had endured a rare 6-for-18 shooting night in which he never found his typical form. Yet he smiled defiantly when asked what gives him the belief this team won’t fracture amid turbulent times.

“That’s the beauty of sports. When you’re down, how do you respond to it? A true competitor is going to pull through,” DeRozan said. “All these guys show frustration, show anger. And that’s a great sign.”

Indeed, the postgame conversation between LaVine and DeRozan seemed symbolic, the team’s two best players sharing the burden and their frustrations, connected by the sting of losing.

“That’s for the leaders of the team to do — band together. It’s us versus everybody. Nobody is going to help us dig out of this hole besides us,” LaVine said. “There will be tough conversations, words said. Sometimes you need that.”

These six straight away games began so encouragingly with a stirring, defensive-minded victory in Milwaukee against the powerhouse Bucks. That followed a home victory over the powerhouse Boston Celtics.

But the ensuing five games, including the lone other victory in Utah, showcased the Bulls’ inconsistencies. From a seemingly game-to-game discrepancy from the 3-point line to the offense showing up one game but not the defense and vice versa, there always seemed to be something.

Add in the fact that it has been rare this season when the Bulls Big Three of DeRozan, LaVine and Nikola Vučević have clicked and a sub-.500 mark — for now — is what follows.

“We got urgency. We talk to each other every day. We watch film. We have pride. Guys have individual goals. It’s just executing it,” LaVine said. “We have to find our rhythm. I don’t think we did terrible defensively. They’re the second-highest scoring team in the NBA. We held them under their average. We weren’t great on offense and were playing catch-up.”

That playing-from-behind dynamic plus the recent losing begs a question: How do the Bulls right the ship while staying true to coach Billy Donovan’s emphasis on limiting isolation and hero ball?

The Bulls feature supremely talented offensive players. But Donovan has said the ideal offensive formula is to have five to seven players in double figures and 25 or more assists. The Bulls are 6-2 when that happens.

So it’s on the players to continue trusting each other — sharing the ball, moving without it.

“If we end up just becoming a total isolation team, it’s going to be very difficult for us long-term,” Donovan said.

Donovan gathered his players at the start of training camp and warned them that this season would be more difficult than last. He was tweaking the offense to feature less isolation. Lonzo Ball wasn’t ready to start the season. Etc.

And so here the Bulls are, facing early-season adversity. Donovan pointed to the character inside the locker room as to why he remains confident in this team’s long-term fortunes. LaVine agreed.

“I always have personal belief in myself. And I think guys around the locker room have that same characteristic,” he said. “I think that leaks into the team and gives everybody confidence.”

Asked about his feisty demeanor throughout the latest loss, LaVine didn’t shy away.

“I’ve been frustrated for a little bit. Obviously, trying to get myself going. We haven’t been winning a lot. Sometimes that carries over when you care a lot,” he said. “I put a lot of work into this. And when things don’t go right on the court and you feel like you’ve been either fouled or it’s a bad play or you miss a shot, sometimes your emotions come out.”

As LaVine’s postgame media session continued, he called a locker room attendant over.

“Hey,” LaVine said. “Give this to DeMar.”

DeRozan had left his winter coat in his locker. Give LaVine his third assist of the evening — and hope that such looking out for each other continues both on and off the court.

“It’s supposed to be frustrating. It’s supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to suck,” DeRozan said of losing. “Now, how do we channel that to challenge ourselves and come out of this thing and make something out of it?”

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