I present to you … buckets:
— NBA (@NBA) May 10, 2021
• Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic did what they needed to do against a last-place Detroit Pistons team last night, combining for 59 points on a 55 percent shooting performance from the field. LaVine added 6 assists and Vucevic grabbed 16 rebounds. Since both returned against the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday, the team has now won three straight games by a combined margin of 55 points. The offense has been firing on all cylinders, and it’s been thanks to the growing chemistry between these two All-Stars. The chance at cracking the play-in tournament might still end up out of reach, but these are the kinds of performances we should be encouraged by regardless of the end-of-season result. These are the kinds of win streaks that can help sell free agents in the upcoming offseason and help the Bulls top-two players better understand how to distribute the workload in a (hopefully) much more competitive 2021-22 season.
• Five of LaVine’s six assists went into the hands of Vucevic. The first two came on easy screen-and-roll reads followed by two pick-and-pop mid-range buckets and a quick pass to set up an open drive to the hoop. The spacing may not have been flawless on each connection, but LaVine passed the ball with confidence and Vucevic finished the play with ease.
• In the meantime, Coby White lurked along the perimeter to bail out his two All-Stars. I know fans are hesitant to buy into late-season turnarounds (and for good reason), but I think it’s hard not to believe some kind of switch has flipped for White. Since re-entering the starting lineup on April 16th, the second-year guard is averaging 18.7 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game. He is shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from downtown. I had expected some of his efficiency and comfort to diminish with LaVine back on the floor, but so far it’s stayed the same. In the past three wins, he’s averaged 20.0 points, 4.7 assists, and 5.6 rebounds. The game has slowed down for White over the last month or so, and while it’s not going to change the offseason plans to find a starting point guard, I’m sure it has made the front office feel more confident about the role White can play moving forward.
• Fun fact: White, Vucevic, and LaVine combined for just two turnovers last night.
• What has been arguably more important than the Bulls’ three-headed scoring monster these past three games has been the defense. The team has held opponents to under 100 points in each game. The opponent field goal percentage over the last three games has been just 42.9 percent which ranks 5th-lowest in the NBA. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but it still reflects a much-improved effort for this Bulls defense that has struggled to guard a statue at times this season. Here is what Thaddeus Young had to say about the defensive improvements after the game:
“I think guys are just realizing that every game counts, that we need to get into the ball and impose our will on games early and make sure throughout the course of the game that we’re able to play sustainable defense to get us the win.”
• All things considered, I think we all wish these guys realized “every game counts” way before the last two weeks of the season. However, setting that tidbit aside, seeing that this kind of defensive intensity can lead to three consecutive double-digit victories is still a relatively big deal. Hopefully, it gives the nucleus of this team a better idea of what they have to do from the get-go next season to keep themselves in the hunt. Yes, getting buckets is this team’s best attribute, but playing defense is what will win them games.
• Do the Javonte Green minutes mean anything? The scrappy defender has found himself a part of the rotation in the team’s last three games. He has not played a ton of minutes, but he has provided an aggressive defensive spark each time he has checked into the game. I would still imagine the Bulls move on from him this summer to open up a roster spot, but we should remember this front office technically traded for him. This could mean they are interested in keeping him around, especially since his qualifying offer is a minimal $1.8 million, according to Spotrac.
• The Athletic’s Power Rankings have moved the Bulls up from 25 to 21 this week. Analyst Zach Harper also looked back at his preseason predictions for the Bulls, who he had finishing as the league’s third-worst team.
• Something to monitor over his final stretch. Bulls could really use Theis this week.
Daniel Theis (hip) is out tonight, Billy Donovan says. He couldn't do anything in shootaround.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) May 9, 2021