If you need me tonight, I’ll be hate-watching the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors.
Only 1.5 games separate the No. 5-7 seeds in the East, and both the Cavs and Raptors will play one of their tougher matchups left on their respective schedules tonight. Cleveland will take on Dallas, which is the same team that clobbered the Los Angeles Lakers 128-110 last night. Meanwhile, the Raptors will face a Timberwolves team that sits 7th in the West with recent wins over the Mavs and Bucks.
I wish them zero luck!
• I’m not going to act like a victory over Washington rejuvenated all of my optimism, but any win is a good win at this point in the season. The Chicago Bulls were able to right the wrongs of the previous night, quickly stopping a second-half run from the Wizards and running away with the game in the 4th quarter. Considering how lifeless this team has looked at times since the All-Star break, it was encouraging to see them re-channel the same early-season identity that initially rose them to the top of the East. They were one of the best teams in the league at taking care of business against lesser opponents, and they looked the part with a 32-21 effort in the final frame last night.
• This used to be a Bulls team that took advantage of almost every opportunity the other team gave them. They averaged 17.2 points off opponent turnovers per game heading into February, which ranked 8th in the NBA. Since, however, we’ve seen that number plummet (ya know … like everything else). The Bulls have ranked just 25th (14.7) in points off turnovers since February 1st, and this lack of defensive disruption (and thus transition opportunities) has played a key role in the team’s steady decline. The good news is this number has started to trend back in the right direction. To be sure, it isn’t anything to hang a hat on, but it’s been exactly league average the past eight games. Last night helped boost that number by forcing the Wizards into 14 turnovers and scoring 21 points off those screw-ups.
• Generating turnovers on one end will be vital for the Bulls to play to the best of their ability on the other. But they also need the DeMar DeRozan that showed up in the second half to play a full game. Look, I know we’ve asked a lot of DeRozan this season, but we have to continue to do just that for this group to go on any kind of last-ditch run (especially with Zach LaVine’s nagging knee injury). After a dominant two-thirds of the season, DeRozan has struggled to play the same consistently efficient game in the month of March, but perhaps last night’s final two quarters can change that. He looked back to his February self with a 10-15 performance in the second half to score 23 of his 32 points.
• When we consider he started the game 2-12 from the field, it was pretty remarkable to watch him instantly transform into a ruthless clutch dragon that ate Wizards for breakfast. He still sits as the NBA’s leading 4th quarter scorer with 587 total points, which is 96 points ahead of the second-place Giannis Antetokounmpo. How does he do it?
“I’ve learned to have a short-term memory when it comes to missing shots. You just have to keep on going. I understand it can’t be perfect. You can’t make every single shot. For me, especially in the 4th quarter, I just try to ease whatever happened in the previous three quarters shot wise and just try to focus in, hone in at a different level,” DeRozan told reporters after the game.
• As DeRozan turned things around, Zach LaVine stayed relatively quiet. The Bulls All-Star guard did score 7 of his 14 points in the final quarter, but he was uncharacteristically irrelevant for the first three-quarters of action. In fact, he didn’t even score his first points until mid-way through the 3rd quarter. I think it was undeniable his knee limited him on the second night of a back-to-back, as the same downhill explosiveness we’ve seen in recent games was nowhere to be found.
• So why not sit him for a game? LaVine has harped he can still help the team on nights he isn’t feeling 100 percent, and I’d probably have to agree with him. Not only has he gradually improved as a passer, but his mere presence is something opposing defenses have to worry about at all times. Also, as we saw last night, he’s still someone who can knock down jumpers from almost anywhere on the floor. His two 3’s in the 4th quarter were important mini-daggers.
• The Bulls did a really nice job beating the double-team on several possessions last night. DeMar DeRozan looked far more conscious about getting the ball out quick, and Nikola Vucevic played a vital role as a middle man. Both LaVine and DeRozan have to try to position themselves to find Vooch at the elbow more often. From years of being the focal point in Orlando, he knows how to help run an offense and find his teammates. He’s truly one of the more underrated passing big men in the league.
Billy should just put this play on loop during film tomorrow.
This is how to beat a trap. Nice and easy. pic.twitter.com/sTgiXzP6Aw
— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) March 30, 2022
• Shoutout Coby White: The man has been harder to figure out than some of my philosophy textbooks in college, but he showed up last night in a way this team desperately needs. While he may have only finished with 9 points, he dished 5 assists and grabbed 4 rebounds in a +18 performance. Add in a couple more 3-point makes, and this is the player the Bulls need to show up for the rest of the season.
• The Boston Celtics lost big man Robert Williams earlier this week to a knee injury. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is now reporting he could find his way back on the floor by the start of the second round of the playoffs. I’m sure many teams will be keeping a close eye on Williams’ status, as he’s been arguably the catalyst for the team’s significant defensive turnaround.
ESPN story on Boston Celtics center Robert Williams undergoing left knee surgery — with the possibility of a return in a month: https://t.co/xGrf1fFsQ5
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) March 30, 2022
• Trouble in Utah?
Donovan Mitchell at a loss for words after falling to Clippers: "I don't know. It's the same s***. It's the same thing. It's literally the same thing."
Utah is now two games behind No. 4 in the Western Conference. Home-court advantage in the playoffs unlikely. pic.twitter.com/tb0wtHAjzz
— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) March 30, 2022
• SO SEXY.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 30, 2022
• Hey, wow, MLB is doing something cool!
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 30, 2022