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Back on Track? It All Starts on Defense, A Comfortable Coby White, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

A win over the Orlando Magic may not be worth a round of applause from Bulls fans, but it sure is worth a sigh of relief. After what we saw a couple of nights prior against the one-win (now, *shivers,* two-win) Houston Rockets, it was hard not to be concerned.

While there was no question the Bulls had the talent and chemistry to compete with some of the top teams in the league, a loss to the Rockets indicated they didn’t yet have the mentality or stamina. They not only looked like a sluggish team, but one that no longer had the killer instinct we saw against more established squads. It was a mindset that needed to subside quickly … and, fortunately, it appears it did.

•   After a neck-and-neck first quarter, the Bulls dominated for 3-straight frames. They displayed the kind of balanced game that has earned them a 5th-place net rating in the NBA. And, as it has all season, this success started on the defensive end. They forced the Magic into 15 turnovers and used their wicked athleticism in transition to help earn a 22-10 advantage in the points off turnovers department. For the first time in a long time, the Bulls were also able to dominate the glass. A communal effort that saw Alex Caruso, Coby White, Nikola Vucevic, Javonte Green, and DeMar DeRozan all finish with at least 5 rebounds and helped the team win the rebounding battle 47-36, which made for their best performance in this department since the Denver game.

“I just think for us defensively, if you looked at moments where we have not been good, it’s been really at the point of the screen and on the ball,” Donovan said after the game. “And when we get a little bit loose or were trailing or not really physical, kind of being the aggressor, we have a hard time because of our size.”

•   The Bulls quickly became the aggressor on Friday night, and the dynamic defensive duo of Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball is a big reason why. The two finished with a combined 9 rebounds, 9 assists, and 9 steals, while Ball added 13 points to the board behind four 3-pointers. It’s hard not to admire the ability these two have to buy into their dirty work role, and it’s also hard to realize how contagious their effort is for the rest of the team. After all … did you see Coby White last night?

•   Yes, the familiar scoring spark is obviously what stood out the most, but White arguably played some of the most sound defense we’ve seen from him since he entered the league. The third-year guard was fighting around screens and sticking to hips. He may not have forced the kind of turnovers Caruso and Ball did, but he looked more competent on that end of the floor than we’ve grown used to seeing.

“It’s been a real focus point since I’ve been back,” White said when asked about his defense after the game. “We’re so good defensively, I’m just trying to fit in on both ends of the floor. For me, I just really locked in on the defensive end and try to give effort that way.”

•   With that said, the bucket-getting still reigns supreme. Since returning on November 15th, last night was the first time White broke 20 points, and he did it on a season-best 9-11 performance from the field. What was arguably most encouraging was the fact that White wasn’t just popping up catch-and-shoot 3’s or scoring easy buckets in transition. White had a slick stepback 3 off the dribble, he drove to the rim off the pick-and-roll, and he worked his way into the paint for some quick-flip floaters. All things considered, it reminded me a lot of the versatile scoring repertoire we saw from him in college, and it was extremely encouraging to see him finally look this comfortable in this new role.

•    I think I have to mention it: Wendell Carter Jr. looked good. The big man dropped 26 points with 10 rebounds and 2 blocks. He fought his way to the free-throw line for an 8-10 showing and also sank two 3-pointers. To be honest, he looked like the versatile and confident talent we all crossed our fingers for in Chicago, and he played like the best player on the floor for the Magic. The good news, however, is the Bulls still won by 35 points and hold a record of 13-7. The trade is still something I likely sit here and do 10/10. While Vucevic has struggled to find his footing this season, the acquisition of his All-Star status was the first domino to fall in this so far successful roster overhaul. And I still expect him to only get better as the season goes on.

•   But, hey, I’m happy for Carter. He says there is no bad blood in Chicago, and I certainly don’t hold any ill-will toward him. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and I’m not holding that against him.

•   Speaking of former Bulls big men …

•   Chicago might be Vucevic’s newest home, but Orlando was his first. I thought it was really cool to see all the love he got from the team and fans last night. It’s clear he meant a lot to that organization over his nine seasons in the city, and I’m glad everyone was able to leave things on good terms. It’s always great to see some well-deserved recognition.

•   I can’t wait to see these for the first time tonight.

•   Troy Brown Jr. was honored to get the Jordan treatment (as he should be).

•   Scary stuff for Ja Morant last night, but it appears the rising star avoided a significant knee injury.



Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is a writer for Bleacher Nation and a human being. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.