Bulls

10 observations: Bulls beat Mavs with balanced scoring attack

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls notched another quality win Wednesday at the United Center, moving to 8-3 with a 117-107 over the Dallas Mavericks.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Mavericks missed 10 of their first 12 field-goal attempts (and seven of their first eight 3-pointers), while the Bulls got off to a scorching start, building a lead that swelled as high as 11 points. But the Mavericks hung around with the help of 12-for-13 free-throw shooting — the Bulls placed them in the bonus quickly — and closed the period on a 14-6 run with Luka Dončić off the floor to lead 33-32 after one. 

2. Nikola Vučević followed up his strong fourth quarter against the Nets with a solid, all-encompassing performance, tallying 18 points (8-for-14 shooting), 10 rebounds and 4 assists.

It started in the first quarter, when Vučević accrued 9 points, 4 rebounds and a 4-for-7 shooting line. He got three point-blank looks to go — the first two: a putback of his own miss, then a forceful drive through Dwight Powell — and stepped out for a pick-and-pop 3-pointer off a feed from DeMar DeRozan.

His passing popped throughout as well. On multiple short-rolls, Vučević picked out open 3-point shooters for easy makes, highlighting his playmaking ability at the center of the Bulls’ offensive attack.

 

3. Lonzo Ball came out of the gates scalding hot from distance, making each of his first four 3-point attempts, and sitting 5-for-6 from deep at the half. He added two more 3-balls in the third quarter to enter the fourth 7-for-9, and finished 7-for-10, one short of tying a career-high. But his 21 points, which paired nicely with 6 assists, mark a season-best.

4. Ball also contributed to a strong effort defending Dončić, who scored 8 points on 2-for-9 shooting in the first half and finished with 20 points, 10 dimes and a 6-for-18 shooting line. Dončić missed some shots he usually makes, but a collective effort from Ball, Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., and even Vučević coming out high to defend screen-and-roll actions, was generally effective in forcing him into tough looks, at least.

Head coach Billy Donovan didn't like how often the Bulls sent Dončić, and the Mavericks, to the free-throw line, but applauded his guards' effort level defending him.

"He's (Dončić) a tough shotmaker and sometimes with a guy like that you're at their mercy. And he just didn't necessarily have a great offensive night," Donovan said. "I thought our guys worked incredibly hard on him, I thought they were aggressive at the point of the screen, they worked really hard to get back in front of him."

5. The Bulls entered play last in the league in 3-point attempts (26.9) and 29th in 3-point makes (9.5 per game), but shot 9-for-17 from distance in the game’s opening two periods. By night’s end, they had a new season-high for 3-pointers made in a game with 15, and they finished the contest at 48.4 percent on 31 long-range tries.

6. Alex Caruso contributed three of those triples (on four attempts), with two coming in a scoring flurry between the late third and early fourth quarters, when the Bulls ballooned their lead from seven at halftime to as high as 18. He drew MVP chants on a charity-stripe trip after converting an and-one layup late in the third quarter. He doggedly defended Jalen Brunson, who was up to 10 points early in the second quarter, but finished with 12, throughout.

7. And Caruso scored a season-high 16 points to go with a career-high-tying 6 steals, leading a reserve group that outscored the Mavericks’ bench 31-27. As a team, the Bulls placed five players in double-figures, satisfying Donovan’s stated goal of five-to-seven players in that strata per game. With the victory, the Bulls move to 6-0 in games they place five or more players in double-figures.

8. Zach LaVine, almost quietly, scored a game-high 23 points on just 12 shots, shooting 2-for-2 from 3-point range despite entering play 23.1 percent from distance since injuring his left thumb against the Raptors in the fourth game of the season. Donovan allowed LaVine to play through early foul trouble (he had three in the second quarter), a gamble that paid off.

 

For only the third game this season, LaVine and DeRozan didn’t both exceed 20 points, as DeRozan notched 17 on 7-for-20 shooting. It was an off-shooting night by his lofty, early-season standards, but the rest of the team — primarily LaVine, Ball, Vučević and Caruso — compensated, a welcome sight.

9. The Showtime Bulls came alive late in the fourth, with a 360 dunk from LaVine (after which he drew a technical for arguing a non-foul call on the previous possession), and an alley-oop from Caruso to DeRozan.

That put a thrilling cap on the night for a buzzing United Center crowd, and concluded another strong second-half effort.

10. In a minor rotational development: Alize Johnson received 10 minutes of run, and pulled down 7 rebounds, at reserve center. Donovan said postgame he turned to Johnson over Tony Bradley, for a time, in a matchup-based decision when the team needed to prioritize switching ball-screens against the Mavericks guards. Bradley logged 6 minutes, mostly when Dallas trotted out bigger lineups.

And so the Bulls enter what should be a grueling, five-game West Coast trip 8-3 on the season.

"We're moving in the right direction," said Ball. "For us it's just one game at a time. It's a brand new team. Trying to build a new culture here. And 8-3 is not too bad."

Next up: At the Golden State Warriors on Friday.

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