PHOENIX — There are times when Billy Donovan gets wordy with his answers, making sure he doesn’t skip the details.
But the essence of what the Bulls’ coach is saying is usually very straightforward.
Maybe it’s a mentality that was instilled growing up in Rockville Centre on Long Island, or maybe it was acquired from all those years of running an elite Florida Gators program that always set its sights on the national title.
Either way, his approach is very black-and- white, sink-or-swim.
That was his message to his players after yet another disappointing loss to a playoff-bound squad, and there was no dancing around it.
With 13 games remaining in the regular season, a stretch considered one of the toughest of any Eastern Conference team, the Bulls need to learn how to swim or be prepared to drown come playoff time.
“I don’t think this is an experienced group in those situations where there’s been those [crucial] games, and unfortunately some of these guys have to learn,’’ Donovan said after the 125-100 loss Wednesday in Utah. “As much as DeMar [DeRozan], Alex [Caruso] and Tristan [Thompson] talk about their experience, it’s nothing like when you go through your own personal experience. There’s ebbs and flows, but these games can change in a possession. A missed block-out, a miscommunication, a foul, someone jumping through the air on a shot fake . . . it’s so hard to get easy baskets in games like this, but the reality looking in our face is how we have to respond to it.
“Do I think we’ve figured all those things out? Absolutely not. I think we have a long, long way to go in these moments, but this is what we have to go through.’’
It wasn’t all doom and gloom coming out of the Jazz loss.
Donovan said there were improvements made in boxing out on rebounds, staying on the ground on shot fakes, and a certain amount of urgency from the tip-off.
Those baby steps normally would be applauded in October or November. However, this is mid-March, and time is not on the Bulls’ side. They have gone from the top seed a few months ago to sitting in the No. 5 spot, out of home-court advantage in the first round.
“There’s an attention to detail and a concentration . . . it’s being able to, ‘I’m at the free-throw line and I’m not thinking about the last play, I’ve gotta block out. Then when the ball is out of bounds, who do I got? Let’s get matched up.’ ’’ Donovan said. “That ability to shift from the next thing to the next thing quickly, we’ve gotta get better.’’
Especially when the next three games are at Phoenix, home against the red-hot Raptors, and then at Milwaukee.
“We’re competing, we’re close, but we’re not getting the win,’’ guard Zach LaVine said of the poor performances against the league’s elite this season. “That’s what matters the most, so we have to figure out what that factor is to help us get over the hump because until then it’s all for nothing.’’
And as far as the idea of help on the way? Sure, Patrick Williams (left wrist surgery) is close, but he’s a second-year player who hasn’t played since late October. Then there’s point guard Lonzo Ball, who is still dealing with pain in the left knee, as well as an uncertain return date.
As Donovan pointed out, the games won’t be waiting for anyone.
“I know this is something we have to go through,’’ Donovan added, “and as tough as it is we have to lean into it and take it on.’’