Bulls remain unbeaten in preseason, but this one didn’t come easyJoe Cowleyon October 11, 2021 at 2:13 am

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine drives against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Pangos in the first half of Sunday’s preseason game. | Tony Dejak/AP

Zach LaVine called it a good lesson learned, as the same Cavaliers team that the Bulls blew out of the building on Tuesday, showed up with a different attitude and physicality on Sunday.

CLEVELAND — J.B. Bickerstaff had a definite message to his team heading into Sunday night’s rematch with the Bulls.

“They need to feel us,” the Cavaliers coach said, referring to the idea that young teams could send a bad message to the opposition in the preseason if they appear soft.

Bickerstaff’s concern?

If a team appears to be a pushover in exhibition play, that tag could carry over into the regular season, especially against teams within the division.

Getting run out of the gym against the Bulls in Chicago on Tuesday by 36 points was unacceptable – preseason or not.

So there was definitely a different energy on Sunday at the Rocket Mortgage Field House, even in the Bulls pulling it out late, 102-101.

Good thing for the Bulls, Billy Donovan doesn’t have that exact preseason mindset.

Not that visiting coach necessarily disagreed with Bickerstaff, but this Bulls roster has Donovan operating in a different head space. Not only was Donovan’s roster put together to win games, but to make a dent in the bigger picture.

“The way I look at it is with [executive vice president of basketball operations] Arturas [Karnisovas] and [general manager] Mark [Eversley] coming in, and talking to them, the way I look at it is can we really build a sustainable culture? Are we playing to a standard? Are we building a culture?” Donovan said. “The guys that were here last year, you kind of started that process, and then the roster flipped, so we’re back to that process now. What kind of standard are we going to play to? Those are the kinds of things you’re battling towards.

“We have to establish the culture more so than, ‘Hey, we won tonight, we lost tonight.’ Maybe you win some games because you’re talented, but is what we’re doing sustainable? Can we be a sustainable team? Like, ‘OK, we won tonight, but this is not going to be sustainable against the highest-level teams.’ So what are we doing to build something that is sustainable to compete at the very highest level.”

What they’ve been doing early in this preseason was playing defense at a high level, staying relatively turnover free, and sharing the ball.

Midway through the fourth quarter — or when the regulars were basically done playing — the Bulls had allowed the Cavs to shoot 47% from the field, while looking very different in the ball movement department that was displayed in the first two games.

The starters finished their night with nine assists, turning it over 11 times.

But even on a night in which the play was less than stellar, an average showing by the Bulls (3-0) is better than a Cleveland team trying to throw haymakers.

Still, lesson learned.

“You can learn from every game,” guard Zach LaVine said. “We didn’t come out with the same aggressiveness on offense or defense, and that showed. It doesn’t matter who you played, these are all NBA players. They came out the more physical team.

“And that’s on us.”

The one highlight of the game? Chicago’s own Ayo Dosunmu riding in on the horse and playing hero. Not only did the former Illinois standout score nine points in the seven minutes down the stretch, but hit the basket to put the Bulls up three with 13.8 seconds left.

“He doesn’t have any fear at all,” LaVine said of the rookie. “He’s stone cold. Doesn’t care about the situation. He’s going to go in there and play his heart out. He pretty much won us the game.”

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