The Chicago Bulls found a spark in Patrick Beverley. But will it create a sense of urgency in their final playoff push?
From the opening day of the NBA season, the Chicago Bulls have been seeking a sense of urgency.
Lackadaisical starts, bewildering midgame slumps, last-second collapses — there hasn’t been one throughline to the losses except for a lack of consistent energy. Even their wins have been incomplete, highlighted by late-game implosions that dialed blowouts back into clutch territory or yawning deficits that forced heroic comebacks.
As Bulls players returned from the All-Star break, they acknowledged the reality set out before them: Every night of this final stretch — beginning Friday against the Brooklyn Nets at the United Center — could be the decisive blow for their postseason hopes.
“We’ve got to stop talking,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We’ve been talking all year about this, that and the third, blah, blah, blah. The reality of it: 23 games left, we’ve got to treat every single game like win or go home. Lord knows I don’t want to go home.”
Over the next 23 games, the Bulls need to claw their way over a two-game deficit to pass the Toronto Raptors for the final spot in the play-in tournament. Securing a playoff spot — top six in the East — would require the Bulls to close a 6½-game margin — an outlandish consideration with an 8% likelihood, according to projections from FiveThirtyEight.
The Bulls didn’t mix up their roster at the trade deadline to prepare for this push, but the addition of vocal veteran Patrick Beverley from the buyout market has given them an infusion of energy this week.
Beverley, 34, already has embraced this role, challenging Zach LaVine to shoot more — specifically to stop passing — and pulling aside second-year guard and fellow Chicago native Ayo Dosunmu to offer advice after his first practice. DeRozan feels this presence has been a necessary lift in the locker room.
“You love that,” DeRozan said. “When you have a guy that wants that out to everybody, you can’t do nothing but respect it. He’s not coming at it in a malicious way or a harmful, negative way. He’s pushing you to want to be great.”
The All-Star break gave the Bulls a valuable opportunity to rest and recalibrate. Four players — DeRozan (leg), forward Derrick Jones Jr. (hip) and guards Alex Caruso (foot) and Goran Dragić (knee) — missed the final game before the break. All four practiced at full speed in both practices this week, including contact drills and scrimmaging Thursday.
DeRozan’s health is especially important for the Bulls offense, which plummeted to a 99.5 rating during the six-game skid before the break while the All-Star struggled to play through pain in his right leg. After a week of rest and recovery, DeRozan said he feels “a lot better” and expects to be fully available to close out the season.
But the absence of injuries isn’t an automatic fix for the Bulls. The challenge they face in this final stretch is more mental than physical — and it’s clear that desperation needs to set in to propel this team forward.
“It’s a sense of urgency from tipoff,” DeRozan said. “We’ve got to play as close to 48 minutes of basketball as possible. We’ve had too many spurts where we’ve played 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 minutes. Tomorrow we’ve got to lay it out there every single game. We’ve got to have that mentality of going out there like it’s Game 7.”