The Memphis Grizzlies beat the Brooklyn Nets.
The Detroit Pistons beat the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Golden State Warriors beat the Miami Heat.
The only top-4 Eastern Conference team to pull off a victory on Monday night was the one at the tippy-top, and the Chicago Bulls have now extended their slim first-place lead to 2.0 games over both the Nets and Bucks and 3.5 games over the Heat.
Good morning. Let’s keep going. pic.twitter.com/lCf3E1zGmr
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 4, 2022
• Scoreboard watching with 47 games left in the season is textbook silly, but I’ve been called worse things in my life. The Bulls deserve a sizable round of applause for their leap into the East’s most coveted spot. It took a team with just three returning players – one of which could be out for the entire season – just 35 games to create the kind of chemistry and deploy the kind of dominance it takes to be considered among the league elites. A first-place spot this soon in the season might not mean much to the Bucks and Nets of the world, but it’s needed validation for a Bulls organization that has made some of the boldest moves in the league over the past couple of years.
• There are typically two ways to look at being the No. 1 team in the conference: (1) “We can cruise because we rule the world and everyone else is a bunch of brick-shooting peasants,” or (2) “everyone wants to beat the best.” Fortunately, the Bulls mentality seems to revolve around the latter, and Nikola Vucevic basically said as much after the team’s 102-98 win over his old friends last night.
“It’s a special feeling to be there, especially for us this early to be able to do it. I think it also gives you a different kind of, if I can say it, confidence and swag when you go into games,” Vucevic said. “Now, also, you have to understand that people will be chasing us. They will be looking at us differently, so we’re going to have to play at an even higher level because now we’re the team to beat because of the standings.”
• I think Vucevic displayed wonderfully the balanced mindset we should want the Bulls to have moving forward. They are the No. 1 team in the East, and they should view themselves that way. We want them to believe they are capable of sustaining that level of play and beating any opponent that steps on the court. But, at the same time, we want them to understand that being the best means you get every team’s best every night. The only way Chicago stays in the mix for the East’s crown is if they continue to improve, and it’s reassuring to see the franchise’s veterans understand that.
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) January 4, 2022
• The Bulls’ name might be at the top of the list, but two of the latest Power Rankings are not ready to name them the East’s superior squad. The Athletic and NBA dot com both handed Chicago the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in their latest rankings, respectively. A top-5 nod is plenty palatable, but the Milwaukee Bucks still sit ahead of the Bulls for both sites. However, believe it or not, ESPN has vaulted the Bulls up into their No. 3 spot (previously No. 6), putting them behind just the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns.
• The love kept coming from ESPN on Monday with commentator Matt Barnes claiming that the Bulls’ ceiling rests inside the NBA Finals. Excuse me as I … INJECT THIS ENERGY STRAIGHT INTO MY VEINS.
• Lonzo Ball returned to action after a five-game hiatus on Monday night, and while he struggled to find his shot behind a poor 1-8 showing (1-7 from downtown), he still provided plenty of the Lonzo staples. The point guard finished with 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals to go along with his 3 points. He was a key part of the Bulls mustering one of their better defensive performances over the past couple weeks, as they held a team below 100 points for just the eighth time this season.
• Another well-rounded stat line came Troy Brown Jr., who added 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in his 20 minutes of action. With Javonte Green now sidelined for an extended period of time, Brown could find himself called upon to fill the dirty work role at times. If he can use his length to provide strong on-ball pressure and his underrated passing to help keep the wheels in motion, he could finally start to get the kind of minutes we expected him to get at the beginning of the season.
• Billy Donovan was all of us watching DeRozan’s buzzer-beaters.
Billy Donovan said he didn't think the Bulls were going to get a shot up in time when DeRozan hit his 1st game-winner and on his second one Donovan "almost fell over the coffee table" with excitement.
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 3, 2022
• SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK, VOOCH!
I think be meant to say most valuable https://t.co/jVgGQ7lN5M
— Nikola Vucevic (@NikolaVucevic) January 3, 2022
• My heart is so warm.
AYO AND COBY COOKIN TOGETHER ❤️
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) January 4, 2022
• The plan is also to fire Nagy after the game, right?
An ankle injury has kept Justin Fields out of action for the last two weeks, but Matt Nagy is planning to start the rookie in the season finale. If he is healthy.https://t.co/6Ofw1LyEkZ
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) January 4, 2022