DeMar’s “Put Me in Coach” Moment, Finally Some Free Throws, Vucevic’s Hamstring, and Other Bulls Bullets

When in doubt: DeMar DeRozan.

•   While it may not have been the 133-87 victory we saw on January 11, any win is a good win after a five-game skid. The Chicago Bulls played inconsistent basketball for the first three frames. They allowed the Pistons to shoot well over 50 percent for much of the night, repeatedly getting blown by on the defensive end for a handful of uncontested gimmes. For a while, it felt like we were all about to witness a new low-point on the season, but then old reliable checked back in.

•   DeRozan dropped 16 points in the 4th quarter and 28 of his 36 points in the second half. He attacked his spots on the court in the same calculated fashion we’ve seen countless times before, hitting mid-range jumpers with his eyes closed (this has not been fact-checked) and making defenders cry with some crafty trips to the free-throw line (this has also not been fact-checked). Considering DeRozan had shot an uncharacteristic 40.0 percent in the team’s five-game losing streak, it was encouraging to see him step back into his bag. Sure, a 12-25 performance may not be up to his standard, but it was all the Bulls needed to pull out the much-needed win.

•   The basketball IQ of DeRozan and Donovan was on full display when buckets were needed the most. With roughly 4 minutes to go in the 4th quarter with the Bulls up 105-101, the team called for a rare play where rookie Ayo Dosunmu sets the screen for DeRozan. Typically looking to have him dance with a big man, the Bulls opted to have DeRozan take advantage of the inexperienced Cade Cunningham. After the switch, the Bulls MVP candidate went on to lure Cunningham toward the free-throw line, where he hit the easy turnaround jumper. Chicago forced this matchup again a couple more trips down the floor, earning themselves points each time.

•   Before I could even go hunt some video, I saw the Sporting News’ Steph Noh put out a great breakdown of these final few possessions. I encourage you to give it a watch.

•   The Bulls don’t want to play DeRozan 41 minutes with the playoffs still looming … but sometimes duty calls. DeRozan knew he had the leg to finish out the game, and he told reporters that he essentially pulled a classic “put me in coach” midway through the 4th quarter.

“I asked to go back early, so that was on me,” DeRozan said when asked about his minutes. “I just didn’t want the game to get away in no type of way. Like I said, at this point in the season, everything matters. If I got to play 48, I’m willing to play 48 because everything matters. No time for rest … every one of these games is definitely critical.”

•   For a brief moment last night we watched the team slip into a zone. Then, the Pistons immediately walked into a 3 at the top of the key. The defensive adjustment was short-lived, but it was another example of just how desperate this team is for answers on that side of the ball. I mean, how can we expect this Bulls team to stop anyone when they allow the 28th-ranked offense to shoot 51.0 percent from the field and dish 25 assists? The short answer is we can’t expect this Bulls team to do that. But maybe one that has this guy …

•   I wanted to grab LaVine and DeRozan’s noggins and plant a big old smooch after last night’s performance at the free-throw line. After allowing opponents to average 29.4 free-throw attempts over the past five games to their 17.8, the Bulls finally played the kind of downhill game we know they are capable of. DeRozan and LaVine combined for a 22-24 performance at the charity stripe, going 8-9 in the 4th quarter to help control the pace of play and steal the win. When we consider DeRozan’s ballhandling skills and LaVine’s quick-twitch athleticism, there is little reason to believe this kind of performance can’t be a more frequent occurrence.

“We’ve been putting a lot of teams on the free-throw line. Get them in rhythm. Get them some easy buckets,” DeRozna said. “And we’ve kind of been shying away from that. One thing me and Zach talked about is being more aggressive, getting downhill, get to the free-throw line, and it showed tonight.”

•   Nikola Vucevic’s hamstring looked a-okay for the bulk of the contest. He took full advantage of the Pistons’ shorthanded frontcourt, bulldozing guys down toward the rim on his way to an 8-11 showing and 21 points. If we’re being honest, I think this game gets away from the Pistons sooner if the Bulls feel comfortable playing Vucevic for more than 29 minutes, but Donovan said after the game that the team trainers were watching him closely. Vucevic was only allowed to play 6-7 minute stints, and the team wanted to get him some extra rest. I’ll be curious to see if this approach continues against this Sunday.

•   If you were craving Zach LaVine food content, GQ has got you covered.

•   Hang in there, Zach. The Bulls will give you a great present this offseason!

•   City Edition merch has become as hard to come by as a Joakim Noah 3-pointer. This may not be the Nike look, but Fanatics restocked their officially licensed DeMar DeRozan City Edition jerseys. I’ll take what I can get.

•   LOL

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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