The difference between how a coach feels coming out of a game compared to how a fan base feels are often vast.
That was once again on display the last few weeks.
While Bulls fans were contemplating bringing a lawn chair to Grant Park and setting it up in the snow just to make sure they have a great spot for the June championship parade, coach Billy Donovan had concerns.
Sure, the first seven wins in the current eight-game winning streak were impressive considering all the in-and-out for the roster, but Donovan – who missed five of them while spending time in the league’s health and safety protocol – knew it wasn’t sustainable.
That actually those seven wins were more of a mirage when weighed with the big picture.
Because make no mistake, Donovan and the Bulls front office built this roster with big-picture rewards in sight. And while wins are the bottom line, practicing habits that will matter come playoff time is just as important.
That’s why Donovan sounded a bit like a buzzkill when discussing most of the winning streak.
“I just don’t know if we could sustain shooting the basketball at that clip for the rest of the season,” Donovan said of those first seven wins in the streak. “I think it’s probably unsustainable. I didn’t think defensively we were going in the right direction and what happened over a seven, 10-game period we shot the ball at an absolutely unbelievable rate. We’ve got to have the mentality if the ball is not going in the basket we can still defend.”
That’s what Wednesday’s practice was about. Donovan did announce that injured guard Alex Caruso (mid-foot sprain) was now in the protocols, but the focus was getting back to habits that will mean something in April and May.
A simple look at the numbers in the first seven wins of the streak were a reminder of that.
The Bulls went 98-for-208 (45%) from three-point range. No way that had staying power, even with the Bulls taking over the top spot in the Association in three-point field goal percentage at 38.5%
This roster has shown an ability to knock down threes, but come playoff time that isn’t as sustainable.
More concerning for Donovan was the field goal percentage of the opposition. Starting with the Lakers win and going through DeMar DeRozan’s late-game heroics in Washington, the Bulls allowed a field-goal percentage of 48% (295-for-613).
That would put them dead last in the league currently.
Golden State entered Wednesday with the best field-goal percentage allowed at 42.6%.
So while the win over the Magic on Monday looked ugly, Donovan saw the beauty in it. He saw his defense hold Orlando to 42.4% from the field, while the Bulls offense struggled from three (11-for-31) and still got out with the four-point win.
“[If people are saying] ‘If they don’t shoot it well they’re going to have a hard time winning.’ I don’t know if that’s a good recipe for our team,” Donovan said. “If we didn’t defend [against Orlando] and shot it the way we did, we would not have had a chance to win, and that to me was the encouraging part.
“When you win sometimes it masks things and you lose sight and there is slippage in areas and slippage in things we’ve got to get better at.”
The good news was they likely will.
Lonzo Ball missed five of those first seven games in the streak, while Caruso left early in the Houston win (mid-foot sprain) and hadn’t played since.
Ball returned against the Magic, while Caruso is still a wait and see, but will be back sooner than later.
Improvement to the defense will happen with those two.
It has to in Donovan’s world.