Bulls guard Alex Caruso turns up the pressure on Lakers guard Wayne Ellington during the first half Monday in Los Angeles. | Mark J. Terrill/AP
The team has responded positively to coach Billy Donovan’s adjustments after a loss to Friday to the Warriors.
LOS ANGELES — The Bulls left San Francisco searching.
That’s what happens when an elite team such as the Warriors takes advantage of every shortcoming and completely runs the visiting team out of the gym.
It left questions, and it definitely left concerns.
Leave it to a trip to Hollywood for the Bulls to be discovered. Or, at least, the new-look Bulls.
Coach Billy Donovan and his staff had one day to make the necessary adjustments for the Bulls to get back on track, especially with the uncertainty of when center Nikola Vucevic will test his way out of the NBA’s health-and-safety protocols.
The major move was pulling forward Javonte Green out of the starting lineup in favor of guard Alex Caruso in the back-to-back games Sunday against the Clippers and Monday against the Lakers.
The results came almost instantly. The Bulls ended the Clippers’ seven-game winning streak and did so impressively, controlling most of the game before responding to a Clippers run with one of their own to pull away to a 100-90 victory.
Then the same starting group came out against the Lakers and opened the game the same way, showing serious firepower on offense and disruptive defense.
That’s why Caruso not only credited the coaching staff but also his teammates for buying in.
”I like some of the adjustments we made,” Caruso said before the game against the Lakers. ”We had some sacrifice from some guys, changing their minutes, changing their roles a little bit to help the team win. In that aspect, just adapting to our current situation without [Vucevic] and trying to find ways to win, it was just a good response.
”Anytime you start off a road trip and you kind of get smacked like that, you need to respond and show up, show what kind of team you are. And I think we did that.”
The insertion of Caruso gave the starting unit two disruptive defensive players (along with guard Lonzo Ball) and raised the IQ of the unit on both ends of the court.
The way the Warriors double-teamed and attacked guard Zach LaVine through most of the game Friday put pressure on the rest of the starters to understand spacing and where they needed to be for LaVine to find them for easy shots.
That’s another thing Caruso excels at.
”He’s one of the highest-IQ players I’ve played with since I’ve been in the game,” veteran forward DeMar DeRozan said of Caruso. ”Just to have somebody with that natural IQ out there on the court, it’s just going to make so many things easier for you, offensively and defensively. He kind of anchored us.”
Caruso downplayed the adjustment as simple Basketball 101.
”It’s classic basketball tactics,” he said. ”You get two guys in a trap, you get two outlets to the side and one in the middle, and then it’s four-on-three on the backside and you’ve just got to find the shot. . . . So it’s kind of up to us to find our rhythm through the game and take advantage of them.”
Donovan made it clear the Bulls have to be able to adjust if the opposition has a matchup that takes advantage of them starting Caruso. That shouldn’t be a problem, however.
”Good teams always respond,” DeRozan said. ”You’ve got to respond if you want to be a good team, especially after getting your butt whupped like we did [against the Warriors]. Not having [Vucevic], we’ve got to figure it out. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. Next guy up and figure this thing out.”