At the end of their last regular-season multi-game tour, the Chicago Bulls face a potential roadblock in post-season success – their difficulty in winning away games.
The Bulls dominated the United Center this season and lost only 10 games in Chicago. But that was a different story down the road. Despite an overall record of 44-32, the Bulls are 18-22 away from home.
No other team currently above the play-off cut-off line in the Eastern Conference has a lost road record. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors are in third place despite going 19-19 on the road and the Utah Jazz are fifth with a 19-20 away record.
But for the Bulls, recentness is the biggest concern. Nine of their 22 road losses have come in the 17 games since the All-Star break. Over that period, the Bulls allowed 118.6 points per game while their score dropped to 106.2.
When the Bulls left Chicago, guard Alex Caruso said the mentality change was noticeable in the locker room.
“It’s just about to be on the road, we need to lock up and get better,” Caruso said. “We have to have a different attitude. You have to be prepared that things will not go your way and respond. ”
Coach Billy Donovan attributes the recent road pattern in part to the learning curve of the team’s secondary rotation, which mainly includes players under the age of 23: forward Patrick Williams and guards Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. The group has often struggled the most under pressure from opposing teams playing on their home turf, and in particular allowed a big dollar run from the first to the second quarter in Milwaukee to begin their recent five-game journey.
The development of this trio has been a focal point since the All-Star break. Donovan believes that it is no different to strengthen their mentality while traveling.
“Young players learning how to play on the road are important,” Donovan said. “It’s about figuring out how to do it and trying to find consistency along the way.”
The road inconsistency was not a breach of contract for the Bulls. They have endured the last two weeks on the road and returned to Chicago with victories against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards. They will leave the United Center just one more time for a potentially critical season finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But losing seven of their last nine road games has frustrated the Bulls’ locker room. Veteran leaders like Caruso and DeMar DeRozan have noticed the decline in the team’s intensity outside Chicago. Tuesday’s win over the Wizards in Washington was one of the Bulls’ most intense rounds in recent months, an exciting roadmap for a team still struggling with its identity.
More importantly, winning on the road is essential in the off-season. As the Bulls continue to struggle with their recent tumble to fifth place in the East, they are preparing to enter the play-offs with a lower seed – and therefore a greater likelihood of not having a home-field advantage in a first-round series .
“We need to have a slide on our shoulder when we go on the road and understand that this is our first,” DeRozan said. “We have to accept that challenge and thrive in those moments and understand what is at stake and find enjoyment when you go on the road.
“Our backs are already against the wall.”