Chicago Bulls have improved defensively since a ‘wake-up call’ of allowing 150 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves

When the Chicago Bulls allowed the Minnesota Timberwolves to drop a walloping 150 points on their heads on Dec. 18, it was supposed to be a wake-up call.

The season already had begun to fall off the tracks, but the 150-126 loss was a different form of demoralization. And for the Bulls, it forced a sharper focus on defensive discipline that had grown slack in the early weeks of December.

“It was a wake-up call,” center Nikola Vučević said after practice Thursday at the Advocate Center.

A quick glance at the Bulls’ current standing somewhat belies the change that followed that wake-up call. Before the loss to the Timberwolves, the Bulls had slumped to 11-18. Their offensive rating (110.7) was in the bottom tenth of the league and their defensive rating (112.6) was 18th.

The Bulls still haven’t pulled themselves above .500 as they struggle to piece together more than two wins at a time, and their offensive rating since that game (114.1) remained in the bottom third of the league.

But the defense has been a different story. In the 39 games since the blowout in Minneapolis, the Bulls have posted a 111.3 defensive rating — the second-best in the league — which has powered them to a 20-19 record in that span.

The addition of Patrick Beverley offered a boost to the defense, providing a layer of rigor along the perimeter that has fueled the Bulls since the All-Star break. But the shift can’t be ascribed to a single player.

Coach Billy Donovan said there wasn’t a need to change tactics or approach on defense — the Bulls just needed a challenge to clarify their attention to detail on and off the ball. And while this defensive adjustment hasn’t been able to erase the Bulls’ lack of 3-point shooting or stagnant third quarters, it has been enough to keep them competitive.

Ahead of Friday’s game against the Timberwolves, the memory of those 150 points was still fresh enough to earn winces from players and coaches. But the Bulls also felt more confident in their defensive cohesion, a small boost for a team seeking play-in contention.

“A lot of those clips will be from our last game against them so that will probably refresh their memories,” Donovan said. “But there’s not a whole lot of things as a coach to say to these guys about that game. It was a tough, embarrassing loss, but there was a coming together that came from that.”

The Bulls entered the night in 12th in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind the 10th-place Washington Wizards.

Javonte Green nears return

The forward took another step to a full return to the court Friday when he was cleared for assignment with the Windy City Bulls.

Green has been sidelined since Jan. 11 after undergoing an arthroscopic debridement procedure to address an lingering injury in his right knee. He spent several weeks prior rotating in and out of the lineup due to the injury, which occurred Dec. 12.

Although Green’s recovery process took longer than the team originally estimated, Donovan maintained that the Bulls would welcome the forward back into the lineup. Green was moved into the starting lineup alongside Alex Caruso for one game before his injury, but it is unclear whether he would regain that position following the acquisition of Beverley, who immediately moved into the starting lineup.

Green averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 28 games for the Bulls this season.