Zach and DeMar Go Off, Shooting More 3s, Clutch Improvement, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Zach and DeMar Go Off, Shooting More 3s, Clutch Improvement, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

Seventy-one points.

Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan combined for 71 freakin’ points on the backend of a back-to-back. If that isn’t enough to give you at least some hope that this team is on the right track, I don’t know what will.

  • Last night felt like a statement from the Bulls’ two best players. Speculation about their compatibility on and off the court has loomed over the past couple of months, but both players remained adamant that they could begin to perform closer to the dynamic duo we saw surge to the top of the league last season. Over these past 11 games, they have done exactly that, each ranking top-5 in total points scored.

Zach LaVineDeMar DeRozan
3PT%50.0% (7.5 3PA)17.6% (1.5 3PA)
AST 4.55.6

  • Last night wasn’t played under a your-turn, my-turn mentality. Instead, it was all about allowing a player to take full advantage of the spots they were in. LaVine, in particular, continued to look comfortable and confident with the confines of the Bulls’ free-flowing offense. He forced Utah to worry about his every move, first attacking the rim before eventually taking full advantage of space behind the arc.
  • The Bulls were able to use both the threat of LaVine’s catch-and-shoot ability and DeRozan’s clutch mid-range game to secure a victory in the 4th quarter. They scored 27 of their 71 in the final frame and shot a combined 9-12 from the field.

  • I really think LaVine is back. The player we’ve seen over the past 11 games or so is the player this front office paid the big bucks this summer. He’s easily been one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA in recent weeks, and we’re seeing just how much this can influence winning. Chicago has held the NBA’s 6th-best offense since Dec. 20 and has won eight of their 11 games. I can promise you it’s not a coincidence that this winning stretch has come tied to LaVine’s best play of the year. As good as DeMar DeRozan can be, it’s LaVine’s elite three-level scoring that can make the greatest difference.

  • I’m not going to say that LaVine wasn’t deserving of criticism for his early-season play, but I think we also have to keep in mind what he said after the game. Surgery is surgery. He wasn’t going to feel like himself to start the season, and he knew that it was going to take some time to play like the player we’ve come to know in recent years:

“I feel great; legs feel healthy,” LaVine told Bulls dot com. “That’s what happens when you come off surgery. Everybody expects you to come back and be yourself or better. But without a lot of training and rehab, you’re going to have go through those ups and downs. I take it on the chin. I knew I was going to get back to what I was supposed to do.”

  • LaVine may not fully admit it, but the Minnesota locker room explosion was clearly a wake-up call. I think that moment may have helped him understand just how important it is for the Bulls to be *his* team. As good as DeRozan or Vucevic can be, the team is relying on him to set the tone.

  • LaVine has now made 17 threes over the last two games and has scored a combined 77 points. It would be silly for us to think he can keep up that level of production, but I do think these two games have shown the Bulls that he needs to get more looks from downtown. And Billy Donovan agrees:

“You see him and it’s one or two dribbles and a pullup three. One or two dribbles, straight downhill. He’s just reading the game really well. I was very encouraged he took 13 threes against Philly. As long as he’s doing that you always feel good with his shooting percentage; to me 10 to 15 (threes) every night, I would love that.”

  • Look, I don’t know about 15 a game, but I can’t see why 9 to 10 isn’t achievable the rest of the way. If Anfernee Simons, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, and Fred VanVleet can be in that range, there is no reason LaVine (who is shooting over 40 percent on 7.5 attempts per game) can’t. This feels especially true when we consider how little shooting is on this Bulls’ roster.
  • The Bulls have made some serious improvements in the clutch department this season. After starting the year with the NBA’s worst winning percentage in clutch games, they have been at least league average since the start of December. Even better, they have held a 5-2 record in clutch games over these past 11 contests, which ties them for the second-most during that stretch.
  • I also got to give the Bulls a ton of credit for overcoming some rancid defense last night. The Jazz scored a far-too-easy 68(!!) points in the paint. Chicago was repeatedly missing their rotations and getting blown by at the point of attack. I really thought the absence of Alex Caruso and Javonte Green was going to cause them to lose this game, but they were able to lock in in the final quarter and outscore Utah 42-29. That’s some encouraging stuff, especially when we consider Utah has the NBA’s 3rd-best defense.
  • Speaking of getting blown by, Lauri Markkanen dunked eight times last night. Remember when he, like, couldn’t finish a dunk while playing for Chicago? Yeah, that was weird.

  • Can the Bulls finally take advantage of lesser opponents? If so, this is a real opportunity to sneak back into the playoff picture.

  • Correct.

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.