PHILADELPHIA — Consistency is a word you hear often from players about Billy Donovan.
He’s matter of fact and direct in his approach whether the news he’s processing or delivering is good or bad.
Lately, it’s been the latter as the Chicago Bulls are on a season-high, five-game losing streak following Monday’s 121-106 loss to the potent pairing of Joel Embiid and James Harden on the new-look 76ers. And following it, Donovan pointed the finger inward.
“I have to be better. I have to find better ways to help them. I’m in this with them,” Donovan said. “I think it’s my responsibility for guys like Ayo (Dosunmu) and Coby (White) even Zach (LaVine), some of these guys who haven’t played in places that they want to play in this league, that there are certain things you can’t escape that have to do. And you have to confront them.”
Defending without fouling. Following the game plan. Playing with physicality, particularly when it comes to rebounding.
Donovan has coached in a conference finals. The three players he cited have never played in an NBA playoff game. In his mind, he can help his players better understand what’s needed to win high-level games.
So Donovan spent his late-night flight to Detroit doing what coaching staffs do — watching film, trying to figure out ways to stop a tailspin that dropped the Bulls to 0-9 against the Eastern Conference’s top-three teams.
“Me being frustrated, upset, disappointed, down is not dealing with the fact that I gotta watch film on this flight and we have to find a way to deal with the things that got in the way,” Donovan said. “I think in these situations you have to deal with the truth. I think you get frustrated when you don’t want to deal with the truth.
“When we’ve got guys like Lonzo (Ball) and Alex (Caruso) and [Nikola Vučević] out, how can I figure out from the bench to make the game easier for DeMar (DeRozan) and Zach? How can I make the game easier for our group? How can I help them generate shots or switch and change defenses?
“When you watch the film, you have to deal with the reality and truth of it. And you have to be able to confront it and talk about it. And if you’re not willing to do that, it’s hard to solve problems. In the NBA, they’re all professionals and grown men. They’ve been around. The more you try to solve problems together, the better.”
Vučević's tight hamstring isn’t considered serious or a long-term issue, but it adds to the Bulls’ injury woes and drops an already small margin of error even smaller.
Still, it was interesting to hear Donovan and players cite both a next-man-up mentality while simultaneously mentioning how few games the Bulls have been whole for throughout this season.
“Maybe this team even if we are whole against some of the elite teams, maybe we’re not there,” Donovan said. “I don’t know that yet. But I do feel really good these guys are getting better and competing.”
Donovan cited the Bulls matching the 76ers’ physicality one game after getting out-rebounded down the stretch by the Bucks. He pointed to the Bulls limiting their fouling late after an awful start in which the 76ers paraded to the free-throw line.
“Everybody should be upset but also understand we have to go out here and work,” LaVine said. “We’re a team. Everyone has to look inward and improve. You can’t put the finger and blame people. Each and every one of us needs to look in the mirror and figure out what we can do better to help the whole unit. That’s what a team does.”
At All-Star weekend, LaVine opined his belief that he and DeRozan are the NBA’s best duo. With Embiid torching the Bulls for 43 points and 14 rebounds and Harden finishing with 16 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, the 76ers are now 5-0 when that duo plays.
“We have to figure out how to win some of these games,” LaVine said. “I take me and DeMar versus anybody in the entire world. I feel strongly about that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t win games though.”