Bulls tweak the starting lineup, and it pays off in win over Nuggets

If preseason games are the best time to experiment, Bulls coach Billy Donovan could have worn a white lab coat and goggles Friday night.

Always mum about his lineups, Donovan offered up his first real wrinkle ahead of the regular season, starting Javonte Green over Patrick Williams — the No. 4 overall pick of 2020 — in an eventual 131-113 win over the Nuggets at the United Center.

Although the staying power of Green in that spot remains to be seen with two preseason games left, it paid instant dividends. Green gave the starting group some much-needed energy and fit in with the flow of the offense, finishing with 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting with four rebounds.

“It doesn’t matter where I’m playing or how many minutes I’m playing, I’m just there to make the team better,” Green said.

As for Williams, the demotion didn’t noticeably change the way he played — still passive at times — but it sent a message.

“I thought overall we played better,” Donovan said. “Did I like it? Yeah. Javonte has played with that group in the past. I think it’s trying to find combinations that work together — right now, just trying to look at different combinations of guys. For me, it was, ‘OK, what does Patrick look like with that second unit?’ There were a lot of things we wanted to look at.

“It’s a preseason game. The last thing I would call it is a demotion.’’

Semantics? Maybe. Williams was a hot topic at the Advocate Center after the Bulls’ loss to the Pelicans in the preseason opener, with the talk centering on his confidence and whether he’s in his own head too much.

“I think for Patrick, his focus and concentration needs to be totally from the shoulders up,” Donovan said Wednesday. “Sometimes Patrick can overthink . . . and then he gets to that point where he looks passive.”

Williams himself said he needed to continue working on “self-talking’’ his way out of those moments. He didn’t start off well in his new role Friday, scoring just two points as a reserve in the first half. But he showed a lot more life in the second half, scoring nine points, including a three-pointer.

“There’s not an issue at all there,” Donovan said.

Green-for-Williams wasn’t Donovan’s only experiment against the Nuggets. While hometown kid Ayo Dosunmu was still the starting point guard, Donovan wanted him to approach the job with more freedom than he did against the Pelicans. In that game, Donovan felt Dosunmu was looking over to the bench too much to determine what calls to make.

“One of the things we’ve been trying to work on is where he’s not feeling so compelled to [ask], ‘What should I call?’ or ‘What should I do?’ ” Donovan said. “We’ve got to allow him to where he can be aggressive, to attack, and to let him initiate things.’’

There were moments, especially in the third quarter, when Dosunmu pushed the ball up the floor more aggressively while also looking for his own shot when it was warranted.

Donovan has yet to explictly say Dosunmu is the replacement for Lonzo Ball (recovering from surgery on his left knee), but there aren’t many other logical options right now.

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