Billy Donovan isn't a sky-is-falling type of coach. He's also not punitive.
He's just a realist and a straight shooter, both with his players and the media.
And even during his team's recent nine-game win streak, the Chicago Bulls' coach consistently pointed to defensive slippage that concerned him. Granted, losing Lonzo Ball to the league's health and safety protocols and Alex Caruso first to a foot sprain and later to the same protocols hurts the perimeter and point-of-attack game plan. Javonte Green's groin injury that will sideline the athletic and energetic jack-of-all-trades defender doesn't help either.
Ball is back. Caruso likely will return at some point as the Bulls begin a four-games-in-five-nights stretch on Tuesday at home against the Detroit Pistons. And the Bulls need to get right for the long-term defensively because, as Donovan pointed out, sizzling shotmaking isn't always sustainable and not something you can hang your hat on come playoff time.
The Mavericks ended the Bulls' win streak Sunday night by shooting 50 percent overall and 44.4 percent from 3-point range. Maxi Kleber tied his career-high with six 3-pointers as the Bulls, so focused on Luka Dončić, consistently failed to rotate as aggressively as needed.
"Our defense is just not consistent enough throughout games," center Nikola Vučević said. "We have stretches where we're really good and are able to make our runs. And then we have stretches where we're not focused enough. Our rebounding needs to be a little better. A lot of times we do get stops but we don't get the rebounds so they get second-chance opportunities. Those hurt always."
Even though the Mavericks enjoyed a 48-39 rebounding advantage, that wasn't the case on Sunday. Dallas managed just nine second-chance points on seven offensive rebounds. But the Bulls did allow 13 fast-break points and other open shots off transition opportunities.
"Transition defense is something we have to be better at," Vucevic said.
The Bulls ranked 20th in defensive rating even during their win streak, allowing 112.3 points per 100 possessions. Coincidentally, the Mavericks led the NBA over that same stretch by allowing just 104.3 points per 100 possessions.
During their win streak, the Bulls actually won some games in which they played similarly sluggish defense as they did — other than a solid first-half stretch — against the Mavericks. Think the back-to-back victories over the Pacers and Wizards, which were saved by ridiculous DeMar DeRozan buzzer-beaters.
In Indiana, the Bulls limited the Pacers to 41.8 percent shooting but allowed 58 points in the paint and 25 second-chance points on 17 offensive rebounds. In Washington, the Bulls surrendered a staggering 72 points in the paint and 52.9 percent shooting.
"There's a lot of room for improvement," Donovan said.
Donovan typically gets his teams to defend. He also likes to say the really good teams possess both top-10 defenses and offenses.
As of Sunday, the Bulls sit fourth in offensive rating and 13th in defensive rating. Guess which teams possess top-10 in both? Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Golden State. Those are teams with aspirations for a deep playoff run.
That's the thing: If the Bulls want to stay in the conversation for legitimate title contention, they need to play defense at a higher level.
"We've shown we can do it," Vucevic said. "It's just us being more consistent. If we want to be the team we want to be and we know we can be, it has to be for 48 minutes."