As far as losses go, last night was a good one.
I know that sounds weird to say, but it certainly feels right when we compare it to flops against the Magic, Spurs, or Rockets. Even the great teams drop their fair share of games, and I’m at least somewhat comforted by the fact those losses usually look like what we saw last night.
- On the home floor of the reigning Eastern Conference champions and current No. 1 seed, the Chicago Bulls put up a genuine fight. They held the NBA’s top offense to just 43.7 percent shooting and slimly won the turnover battle for the second-straight matchup. While there were some frustrating defensive breakdowns (especially while trying to guard MVP candidate Jayson Tatum) and clanked shots, there were also some encouraging crunch-time stops and big-time buckets. This included a high-end clutch performance from both Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic after fellow co-star DeMar DeRozan was forced to leave the game.
- Indeed, the Bulls’ stars stepped up in the exact way they’re supposed to when the spotlight is brightest. LaVine dropped 15 of his 27 points in the 4th quarter to go along with 2 assists and 1 steal. He went 3-5 from downtown during that final frame, which included knocking down a cold-blooded 27-footer to bring the Bulls within two with just 2:17 remaining. Add this on top of what we saw from him against the 76ers and Jazz, and LaVine deserves an immense amount of credit for recently playing like the No. 1 option this team needs.
“You’ve got to lay it out there,” LaVine said after the game. “You’re not going to win by feeling bad for ourselves or we’re down a man. Go lay it out there and we’ll see what happens. We’ve come back against them before; they’re a good team. But we think we’re a good team, too. And a couple of little bounces here and there, I think it could have been out game.”
- As for Nikola Vucevic, he continued his strong play against Boston with 21 points and 13 rebounds on 9-15 shooting. He dropped 7 points in the 4th quarter to help LaVine drag the Bulls back into the game. And this included *yet another* extremely clutch 3-pointer. Vucevic is now shooting 38.3 percent from long range on 4.4 attempts per game. Not only is this proving that last year’s 31.4 percent performance was an aberration from the norm, but it could be a big help in increasing his perceived value around the league (*ahem* trade deadline is less than a month away).
- This Patrick Williams thing might be real, folks. While he followed up his two strong performances against the Nets and 76ers (where he combined for 40 points) with a 7-point effort against Utah, he did manage to snag double-digit points last night to go along with 3 steals. Considering the majority of his night was spent trying to guard Tatum, the fact he was able to add a couple of crucial buckets from long-range was nice to see. Hopefully, it’s just another example of him finally learning how to make a more consistent two-way impact.
- The Ringer released their rolling list of the NBA’s Top-100 players earlier this year, and the Chicago Bulls had four players make the cut (DeRozan, LaVine, Caruso, and Vucevic). The latest update to that list still features all four players, but it only threw additional shade at the Bulls’ max man. After initially appearing as the 40th-best player in the league, The Ringer now has LaVine dropping 16 spots into the 56th slot. I know … what the heck!
- I’ll freely admit that LaVine’s start to the year was disappointing. In fact, when they threw him into the No. 40 spot, I didn’t even complain all that much. But the fact he’s now fallen out of the top 50 despite putting together the past couple of weeks that he has is pretty darn absurd. Since the Bulls’ disastrous loss to Minnesota on Dec. 18, LaVine has gone on to average 26.9 points with 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds. He’s shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from long range on nearly 8.0 attempts per game. The guy is at least a top 50 player in the NBA who belongs ahead of names like Kristaps Prozingis, Julius Randle, and LaMelo Ball (just to name a few). I hope the next update puts a little more respect on his name.
- The Charlotte Hornets will be a team to watch this deadline. Between Jalen McDaniels, PJ Washington, Terry Rozier, and even Gordon Hayward, this tanking team has a wide range of talent that win-now teams may want to add. If I’m the Bulls, looking at either of those first two could be wise (although, I expect both to come with a relatively high price tag).
- Will the Bears keep it or trade it?