Bulls

Observations: DeRozan does it again, Bulls beat Wizards

Bulls

He did it again.

For the second straight night – not game, night DeMar DeRozan won the Chicago Bulls a game with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

On Friday, it was a one-legged leaner to sink the Pacers in Indiana. On Saturday, it was a corner 3-pointer with two defenders draped on him to down the Wizards 120-119 in Washington, D.C.

“Thank God we have DeMar DeRozan on our team,” Zach LaVine poignantly put it after the game.

Bulls fans agree.

Here are 10 observations from the team's seventh straight win, which vaulted them to 24-10 and in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference:

1. Making DeRozan’s last-second shot all the more impressive was the presence of mind necessary to catch the ball, set himself, ensure his feet were behind the 3-point line, and pump fake to shake the defenders in his grill before firing and swishing.

“It’s just a habit of mine,” DeRozan said of the pump fake. “Just understanding a young guy was guarding me, helped out – and my pump fake was really the gather to get my feet together so I could just get enough lift to get the ball up. A lot of my shots all night were short. It was tough playing on a back-to-back, I kind of felt it throughout the game, and I just knew on that last shot, just get my legs under me and just give it a chance.”

 

DeRozan started the game by missing five of his first six shots, and finished the first half just 4-for-10 from the floor (2-for-6 from the midrange). But he scored eight points in the third quarter and nine points in the fourth to finish with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Plus, for the second night in a row (and 10th time this season), he visited the foul line double-digit times, making seven of 10 attempts.

The Bulls are now 17-2 on the season when DeRozan scores more than 25 points.

RELATED: DeRozan makes history with 2nd straight buzzer beater

2. After a rare off shooting night in Indiana, LaVine got straight to work on a bounceback against the Wizards. He scored 15 points in the first quarter, mostly on a diet of difficult jump shots, and by the half, led all scorers with 23 points, making five of seven 3-point attempts.

LaVine, like DeRozan, scored nine points of his eventual 35 points in the fourth quarter – and all were timely. At the 9:35 mark of the period, he hit a stepback midrange jumper out of a timeout that stymied a 6-0 Wizards run. With 5:48 to play, he hit a fallaway that cut the Bulls' deficit to 103-101. A minute-and-a-half later, he generated two free throws with a strong drive to stay within two. And with 1:43 remaining, he buried a pick-and-pop 3-pointer (assisted by DeRozan) that put the Bulls in front 115-114.

From there, the game’s final 100 seconds featured four lead changes.

3. The Wizards entered play the NBA’s best crunch-time team with a staggering 14-2 record in “clutch” games, which NBA.com defines as contests within a five-point margin and five minutes or less to play. The Bulls are now 11-6 in such games.

So, yes, haymakers were thrown down the stretch of this one. In the game’s final 1 minute, 28 seconds, Bradley Beal free throws generated by a drive on Coby White put the Wizards ahead 116-115, and a cold-as-ice Kyle Kuzma 3-pointer vaulted them in front 119-117 with 3.3 seconds remaining. Though ultimately outdueled, they weren’t shaken.

4. Acting Bulls head coach Chris Fleming, who has steered the ship for the team’s last five victories with Billy Donovan in health and safety protocols, unsuccessfully challenged that aforementioned blocking foul on White with 88 seconds to play. That comes one night after Fleming admitted regretting not calling for review on a ball that appeared to deflect off of Torrey Craig’s leg in the final seconds of the win over the Pacers.

Wizards coach Wes Unseld Jr. also used his challenge in the closing seconds on Saturday to attempt to reverse Deni Avdija’s disqualifying sixth foul, which granted DeRozan free throws to put the Bulls ahead 117-116. Avdija played well, but was a victim of DeRozan’s foul-drawing mastery for much of the evening.

5. Had the Bulls lost this game, their defensive struggles would have been the headline. The Wizards scored a Bulls-opponent-season-high 72 points in the paint and shot 52.9 percent from the field, overall.

 

While old friend Daniel Gafford racked up 19 points on near-perfect 9-for-10 shooting, it was the Wizards' guards and wings that did most of the damage inside on free drives and cuts to the basket. Kuzma scored 18 points in the paint, Beal scored 10 and Avdija eight.

6. In that respect – containing dribble-penetration – the Bulls missed Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, who have each now missed the team’s last five games. In that span, the Bulls are 18th in defensive rating, allowing 112.1 points per 100 possessions. In the 29 games before those two were sidelined, they ranked 10th in defensive rating, allowing 107.5.

What’s more, though the Bulls generated a respectable 14 points off 12 Wizards turnovers, they swiped just four steals and scored zero fastbreak points, which are crucial to this group when they’re humming. Ball, at least, has exited health and safety protocols and appears to be moving closer to a return. Caruso didn’t travel with the team to Indiana or Washington as he rehabs a sprained foot.

7. The Bulls, meanwhile, scored just 30 points in the paint and were relatively jumpshot-reliant for offense throughout. Their 17-for-34 line from 3-point range (to the Wizards’ 6-for-22) was an equalizer, and for the game, 59 of the Bulls 84 field-goal attempts (25 midrange jump shots, 34 3-point attempts) came from outside the paint. Another 21 came from floater range, leaving the Bulls just four restricted-area attempts total.

8. It was good, then, to see Nikola Vučević burrow inside against smaller Washington lineups for seven fourth-quarter points – two on post-up hooks, one on an and-one putback of a missed DeRozan free throw that knotted the game 112-112 with 2:07 to play. He also smothered an Avdija layup attempt moments later, which produced a sequence that resulted in DeRozan free throws that gave the Bulls a lead.

Vučević finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, his fifth double-double in a row and 17th on the season. He is averaging 18.4 points, 14.1 rebounds, three assists and 1.6 blocks with 50.5/38.1/75 percent shooting splits during the Bulls’ seven-game win streak.

9. Coby White’s recent stretch of strong play also continued with 20 points, five assists and 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range – his fourth 20-point game of the season.

That line includes two first-half 3-pointers and an eight-point third quarter (which the Bulls won 34-24 to flip the game after trailing by 12 at halftime) that featured a transition pull-up 3, fancy dribble move to blow by Corey Kispert for a layup, and a confident, contested 3-point make out of the corner. White also, with 3:16 to play in the fourth, flew in to steal a Beal pass and halt a Wizards fastbreak chance; DeRozan made a layup on the ensuing possession to cut the Bulls’ deficit to 108-107.

 

White has been nails since halftime of the first Hawks game on Dec. 27. In the team’s last four games, he is averaging 18.5 points, 5.3 assists and 1.5 steals, shooting 50 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from 3-point range, while filling in capably for Ball at the starting point guard spot. He’s upped his season-long scoring average to 10.4 points and 3-point percentage of 35.4.

10. LaVine (35), DeRozan (28), Vučević (22) and White (20) combined to score 105 of the Bulls’ 120 points. It took until the 4:19 mark of the third quarter, when Troy Brown Jr. banked home a layup off a broken play, for any Bull other than those four players to score.

By night’s end, they had just six bench points – though Derrick Jones Jr., who filled in for a sidelined Javonte Green (right adductor strain), contributed nine points in a hurry between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth.

Combine that with at-times porous defense and shoddy ball security (15 turnovers), and it’s a win in which the Bulls didn’t play their best.

But a win is just that: A win.

Next up: Back home for the Orlando Magic on Monday.

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