Bulls

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Bulls

“Let me coach my team.”

That’s one of the many things Jim Boylen uttered during his angriest postgame news conference of the season Wednesday night in Minneapolis.

Nobody is infringing on that task, and he has every right to challenge his team both publicly and privately. Just like reporters have every right to make note of a change in postgame demeanor.

Nobody knows a team better than its coach. Nobody disputes Boylen’s passion for the job and care factor. Just last month, Nuggets coach Michael Malone called his team soft to reporters without saying the same to his players, who owned it. And the story barely registered.

This is the difference between a winning team and losing team.

Boylen challenged his team not only because he didn’t like its lack of defensive rebounding and physicality in a dispiriting loss to the Timberwolves. He did so because it’s a different, and critical, place of the season.

When Zach LaVine returns, possibly as early as Sunday at the Nets, the team will be at full strength as it will be the rest of the season. Kris Dunn and Luke Kornet are out for the season.

But LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. will be up and running alongside Coby White, Tomas Satoransky and others. In other words, the nights of an uber-positive Boylen trying to prop up a rotation featuring two-way contract player Adam Mokoka and other non-core pieces are gone.

Or at least following some games.

 

It’s go time. And Boylen is encouraged by what he saw at Friday’s morning shootaround from a team that has played hard more often than not this season.

“I think they already have,” Boylen said, when asked what type of response he expected against the Pacers. “It bothers them. We’ve got a good group, a willing group. Guys at this level understand the things we need to do. Do we always execute or play as well as we can play? No. That’s the game.”

Like Thad Young and Lauri Markkanen postgame in Minneapolis, Coby White had no problem with Boylen’s challenge.

“We’re all grown men,” White said. “If he says we need to play tougher, we need to play tougher. We gotta board and we gotta grind. That’s all there is to it.”

The Bulls have been a poor rebounding team all season. Core players returning on minutes restrictions may not change that immediately.

That doesn’t mean Boylen can’t, and shouldn’t, challenge his players to try to be better.

“You have to pick your moments. We had a team that was hurt and working its way back. We are getting to be full strength. We’ll figure out Zach (Saturday). And so you have to re-establish some of the pillars of your system,” Boylen said. “We got new guys playing, guys that have missed 50 games, guys that have missed six, eight weeks. Human nature is, ‘How am I at? How can I get involved? What can I do?’ And what I want them to do is pay into the pot with their effort and their emotion and play their minutes as hard as they can. And the rest of it takes care of itself.

“We’re a team in transition. Guys are trying to figure out where they’re at and how to fit in. What I’ve asked them to do is just pay into the pot, man. Just pay in with your minutes. Pay into the pot emotionally and physically. The overriding theme is we have to improve our physicality on the defensive board.”

Nobody should dispute that.