DeMar DeRozan hasn’t lost a game since Nov 27.
And yet that was the Chicago Bulls’ leading scorer and All-Star shoo-in practicing free throws on the United Center court in the aftermath of a 102-98 victory over the Orlando Magic.
All because DeRozan, who scored 29 points as the Bulls clinched their first eight-game win streak since March 2012, had the audacity to miss six of 13 free throws. He’s a career 83.5 percent free-throw shooter who entered the night at 87.6 percent this season.
“I usually go back at night, get my rhythm, make a couple hundred free throws in between games. But with the back-to-backs the last two weeks, I haven’t been able to keep up with my rhythm,” DeRozan explained. “It showed tonight. It don’t even look right. There’s no way I was going to go home feeling comfortable with shooting that.”
This work ethic and attention to detail is a big reason the Bulls have a two-game lead atop the Eastern Conference over both the Nets and Bucks. It permeates the roster, from top to bottom.
The Bulls always remain focused on what they can do to get better.
“We can’t be satisfied with anything,” DeRozan said. “We work extremely hard. We can’t take nothing for granted. We understand what’s at task and that’s to continue to get better. Yeah, we won some games. We’re on a win streak. But we’re not satisfied with none of that.”
DeRozan said he made “probably 250” free throws. His routine is to make sets of 10 straight free throws. If he misses one, that particular set starts over. It’s a habit DeRozan said he’s been practicing for the last seven seasons or so.
“Trying to be a creature of habit,” DeRozan said.
When Nikola Vučević struggled through an early-season shooting slump, he talked about the extra work he put in to extract himself from it. Pregame, coach Billy Donovan talked about the recent defensive slippage that defined the close games at the Pacers and Wizards and necessitated DeRozan buzzer-beating heroics to rescue.
So no, the Bulls aren’t satisfied.
“We do have a team with a lot of hard-working guys,” Vučević said. “That’s the only way you become a good player individually and then for the team to work. I think we have guys who understand that.”
They also have a close-knit team. Winning creates chemistry — and sometimes comedy.
Told about DeRozan’s free-throw shooting routine and that he had made 250 free throws, Vučević fired off a one-liner.
“Not tonight,” he cracked, referencing the 7-for-13 in-game performance.