How I’m about to be when the clock strikes midnight:
- The Chicago Bulls have won five of their last six games and now sit 16-19 on the season. They are just a half-game out from continuing their ascent up the Eastern Conference leaderboard and tying the ninth-place Atlanta Hawks. All things considered, when we look back at how this season started, this feels like an extremely positive way to end 2022. But keeping it up will be a different story.
- While the Bulls may have the NBA’s second-easiest strength of schedule to finish out the year, the next two weeks are about to be a big challenge. The 22-win Cleveland Cavaliers make up the Bulls’ next two games, while matchups with the Nets, 76ers, Jazz, and Celtics are also waiting in the wings. Things will lighten up significantly again after that, but the Bulls simply can’t afford another extended losing streak. This group is going to have to find a way to continue the two-way success we’ve seen against teams like the Knicks and Bucks in recent days.
- One easy way to accomplish that is by having Zach LaVine lead the way. The Chicago Bulls’ max player has looked rejuvenated over this recent winning stretch, and we need to look no further than last night’s season-high 43 points to see just that. LaVine did exactly what he was supposed to against one of the weaker defenses in the NBA. He hunted high percentage look after high percentage look and made things look easy with a 15-20 performance from the field.
- LaVine prioritized the rim from the moment the ball was tipped. He scored 8 of his 18 first-half points at the basket, going on to finish the night a perfect 7-7 in the restricted area. And, when he wasn’t finishing strong, he was able to draw the contact and head to the charity stripe for an equally perfect 8-8 performance. Whether it be from an athletic or decision-making standpoint, last night was undeniably LaVine’s most … well … LaVine performance so far this year.
- To no surprise, DeMar DeRozan gushed about his teammate after the game:
“That’s the Zach we all know,” DeRozan told Bulls dot com. “He came out, got us going early. He set the table for the rest of the game, stayed aggressive, hit his shots, was aggressive getting downhill. He has a quick twitch to the movement he does, creating separation, getting downhill, the elevation he gets; it’s beyond amazing. Something you’re definitely born with. It’s amazing and once he gets it rolling, it can be nights like that (and then) nothing you can do but hope he misses.”
- As for LaVine, it certainly sounds like he’s in the right mindset to keep this recent production going. I’m sure it’s been difficult for him to feel fully confident entering attack mode coming off that summer surgery. But games like last night should remind him what his body can do, and why staying aggressive downhill should result in some big nights.
“Obviously, you get going like that it feels like you’re throwing the ball into the ocean,” LaVine told Bulls dot com. “For me, it’s not about dunking as much as being aggressive, getting to the free throw line, getting contact. If I can get over the top and dunk on somebody… obviously, I know I can do that in transition. But three is worth more than two.”
- I just to remind everyone, too, that this isn’t just one strong game for LaVine. The two-time All-Star has really found his rhythm over the past two weeks, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the Bulls have started to stack some wins at the same time. For more on that, I’ll drop a post below:
- My expectations for tonight are a bit tempered. The backend of a back-to-back is always tough, especially when it comes against a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers. While they have dropped three in a row, they are still one of the most dynamic two-way squads in the league. Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen work together to hold opposing teams to the fewest points in the paint per game. Meanwhile, the backcourt combination of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell has given Cleveland the 11th-best offense in the NBA. We know what this team is capable of thanks to their 32-point beatdown of Chicago during October’s home opener, so it’s going to have to take one of the Bulls’ better all-around performances to start this mini-series with a win tonight.
- One year ago today, DeMar DeRozan ended 2021 with a buzzer-beater on one leg …
- So Lauri Markkanen is really that dude now …
- Just lose to the Lions and get me a top-2 pick, please.
- Afternoon hockey!