At the end of their final multigame trip of the regular season, the Chicago Bulls face a potential roadblock to post-season success – their difficulty winning away games.
The Bulls have been dominant at the United Center this season, losing just 10 games in Chicago. But on the way it was a different story. Despite an overall record of 44-32, the Bulls are 18-22 away from home.
No other team currently above the play-in line in the Eastern Conference has a losing road record. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors are in third place despite 19-19 on the road and the Utah Jazz is fifth with a 19-20 away record.
But for the Bulls, recency is the biggest concern. Nine of their 22 road losses have come in 17 games since the All-Star break. During that stretch, the Bulls allowed 118.6 points per game, while their score dropped to 106.2.
As the Bulls left Chicago, security guard Alex Caruso said the mentality shift is noticeable in the locker room.
“It’s just something about being on the road, we need to plug in and get better,” said Caruso. “We have to have a different mentality. You have to… be ready for things that don’t go your way and react.”
Coach Billy Donovan attributes the recent road pattern in part to the learning curve of the team’s secondary rotation, which mainly consists of under-23 players: forward Patrick Williams and guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. The group often struggled the most under the pressure of opponents playing in their home turf, most notably allowing a big Bucks run from the first to second quarter in Milwaukee to open their recent five-game journey. .
Developing this trio has been a focal point since the All-Star break. Donovan believes strengthening their mindset while traveling is no different.
“Teaching young players to play on the road is important,” said Donovan. “It’s about figuring out how to do that and trying to find consistency down the road.”
The inconsistency on the road is not a deal breaker for the Bulls. They endured the last two weeks on the road and returned to Chicago with wins against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards. They will leave the United Center just one more time for a potentially pivotal season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But the loss of seven of their last nine road games has left the Bulls dressing room with frustration. Veteran leaders like Caruso and DeMar DeRozan noticed the drop in team intensity outside of Chicago. Tuesday’s win at the Wizards in Washington marked one of the Bulls’ most intense finishes in recent months, a stellar feat on the road for a team still struggling with its identity.
More importantly, winning on the road is essential in the late season. While the Bulls still struggle with their recent fall to fifth in the East, they are preparing to enter the playoffs with a lower ranking – and therefore a higher chance of not having a home field advantage in a series. of the first round.
“We have to have a chip on our shoulder when we go out and understand that we are first,” DeRozan said. “We need to meet that challenge and thrive in those moments and understand what’s at stake and have fun when you go out.
“Our backs are already against the wall.”