Winning 17 of your first 25 games together suggests things are going well. Being the only teammates to also rank within the NBA’s top-10 leading scorers suggests things are going really well.
DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine have quickly turned into one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos. The isolation scoring ability of DeRozan, the versatile shotmaking of LaVine, and the unselfishness of both players have led to a 6th-ranked offense and a 4th-ranked 4th quarter net rating. From the moment the season tipped off, it has proven to be a deadly combination that has allowed the strengths of both players to shine in a winning environment. And that’s exactly why some significant concern settled in when DeRozan ended up in the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols on Monday.
Removing the team’s leading scoring in DeRozan felt like removing a massive chunk of this team’s chemistry. How would LaVine adjust on the fly to life without his right-hand man? And how would the rest of the Bulls – still missing Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, and Coby White – help carry the extra weight?
Well, LaVine slipped right back into his No. 1 scoring role with 32 points, 8 assists, and 3 rebounds. Nikola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball then each added 20 points and 10 rebounds to go along with the combined 23 points from Derrick Jones Jr. and Ayo Dosunmu. In other words, as the Bulls walked off the court with a 109-97 win over the reigning MVP and the Denver Nuggets, they reminded everyone the chemistry on this team goes far beyond just LaVine and DeRozan.
“I think the chemistry is great,” Ball said after the game. “Obviously, it’s a brand new team and guys want to come in and do their part. I think we’re doing that this year. We’re still figuring out how to win games, but with practice and playing together, hopefully, we can just keep moving forward.”
Even though the Bulls did it without DeRozan on the court, they were quick to remind him how important he remains off it. LaVine told reporters after the game that he immediately picked up the phone to give his teammate a ring.
“I called him right after the game, let him know we got his back,” LaVine said. “Fingers crossed for his test tomorrow, obviously. He’s in good spirits, he’s feeling good from when I called him. But I definitely called him right after the game just to say what’s up to him and celebrate the win with him.”
I know, it’s a small thing, but it weighs a ton.
The best teams play for each other. No one is denying you need the talent in the NBA, but all that cheesy talk about heart and fight is worth something. It would have been so easy for the Bulls to lose that game last night. In fact, not many would have blamed them if they did. But they took the floor with arguably more motivation than we’ve seen all season, and LaVine wanted to make it known that they did it, in large part, for the man who played the biggest role in getting them to this point. Look past the numbers, and that is what makes this team great.