Lauri Markkanen and Coby White have each been dealing with inconsistency this season, but with just 16 games left and so much on the line, the hope is Saturday was another learning block in winning basketball.
All Billy Donovan is hoping for is lessons have been learned.
With just 16 regular-season games left for the Bulls, they better be.
Guard Coby White had just eight points in the Saturday win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, but had nine assists and was plus-eight in the plus/minus category.
Lauri Markkanen was finally a factor off the bench, not only scoring 16 points and grabbing six rebounds, but was a plus-14 in plus/minus.
“The two guys I’m really, really proud [of] is Lauri and Coby,’’ the coach said after the five-game losing streak was finally ended. “Not one more than the other, but in particular the fact that Coby, I think he had 27 points [in the loss to Memphis on Friday], and then he comes back against the [Cavs] and he can’t make a shot – I think he goes 2-for-10 – but I thought he played winning basketball. He did a good job running the team, he got us in and out of stuff. I thought he competed like crazy on the ball [defensively].
“And I think for Lauri, coming off the bench and doing what he did … this to me is development. They need to understand how to impact winning, and I felt like both guys hopefully took a step in that direction that whether or not they’re making shots or missing shots, they still can have an impact on the game.’’
That’s the mode the Bulls find themselves these days – doing whatever it takes to impact winning, because if they want to play a meaningful game in May, winning has to be done.
And with Zach LaVine testing positive for the coronavirus, it has to be done without an All-Star and arguably one of the elite scorers in the Eastern Conference.
That’s why Donovan took some hope from the win over Cleveland. Yes, it was the slumping Cavs, but the fact that White looked like a capable point guard and Markkanen looked like a player the coach could close a game with, that has staying power.
How long it stays is now up to both players.
“Those two guys are really important pieces to our team and they’re two really good young players,’’ Donovan said. “But they haven’t won at a very significant level. And I’m not blaming either one of them for that.
“They need to learn how to [win games] and what goes into that. Whatever Lauri’s minutes are, whether it’s 15 or 27, what kind of impact does he make where he’s saying, ‘You know what, they’re going to have to keep me on the floor? I do too much. I rebound. I run the floor. I defend. I protect the rim. If I’m not shooting, I do other things.’ ‘’
He checked a lot of those boxes in the Cavs win, and that’s why he did get closing duties. The problem with both, however, is they have shown these moments before, but then they’ve inexplicably slipped back into bad habits.
Sometimes it just takes one game for something to click. That’s what Donovan is hanging onto. And while Markkanen was saying the right things, because he’s so laid back it’s hard to guess what sticks with him and what doesn’t.
“I think a lot of guys have sacrificed,’’ Markkanen said of the current situation for himself and White. “I’m not going to do anything that jeopardizes the team. I’m going to play my role as well as I can. I think in the last games, I could’ve done a better job. I’m just trying to focus on staying positive and bringing the energy off the bench. The opportunity is going to be there.’’
He’s right, the opportunity will be there. The big question is will he grab it and hang onto it?