LOS ANGELES --- Near the end of the third quarter Monday night, Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball took an inbounds pass, jumped and fired a full-length, overhead desperation heave at the far basket.
The 76-foot shot had---what?---an .001 percent chance of finding bottom. But Ball shot it anyway.
“It’s a chance to make the shot,” Ball said following the Bulls’ decimation of the Los Angeles Lakers, which, following a similar demolishing of the Los Angeles Clippers, capped a clean sweep of Staples Center tenants. “I really don’t play the percentages. I don’t mind taking the fullcourt heave. If it’s another missed 3-point shot, I really don’t care. If it goes in, great. If not, I’ll shoot it again.”
The play may seem inconsequential, a blip in the grand scheme of things. But it’s really not. It speaks to a larger theme from these 10-4 Bulls.
Not every player takes that shot. Many hold the ball so as not to harm their shooting percentage.
Ball, like the teammates that surround him, isn’t worried about individual statistics. He’s trying to win the game. And by taking that shot, he’s improving his team’s chance to do so---.001 percent chance or not.
“I think it’s the character that everybody brings to this team,” Ball said when asked why a team with so many new faces is playing such cohesive, winning basketball. “The whole team plays for one another. Even out there playing small ball, we got guys 6-7, 6-8 playing center. I’m playing a little power forward. AC (Alex Caruso) is playing power forward. It’s just the will and the fight that we have as a collective unit.
“We all have the common goal to win the game. When you put your ego aside and high character guys step up, that’s what happens.”
There’s something special happening with these Bulls. And it’s rooted in selflessness.
DeMar DeRozan said Nikola Vucevic, quarantining back in Chicago following his positive COVID-19 test, joined a group text immediately following the victory over the Lakers. Caruso and Coby Ball traded jokes on social media after both going scoreless.
DeRozan, who continued his early-season, MVP-level play, said Zach LaVine kept pushing him to score 40 points against the Lakers. But DeRozan, who finished with a season-high 38, joked he was too tired.
This is the same LaVine who some critics labeled as an empty-calories scorer as recently as last season and projected he’d be a ball-dominant poor fit alongside DeRozan. Instead, LaVine gladly and eagerly is sharing the scoring load and the spotlight.
“Pretty sure there are going to be plenty of games where it be vice versa,” DeRozan said. “When you have that respect for one another, it makes your job easier. I said a long time ago, nobody has egos. Nobody feels entitled. . . . The only thing that matters is winning.”
Winning is historically the best uniter and bonding experience. But management spoke as far back as media day about how it saw selflessness and high basketball IQ while constructing the roster throughout a busy offseason.
“We’re all comfortable,” DeRozan said. “First and foremost, just the friendship that all of us, the respect we have for one another. Things we do that you guys may not see translate over to the court.
“We’re playing for one another. When you have that type of chemistry, it’s easy to pull off victories.”
DeRozan compared the chemistry of this team to that of some of the Raptors teams he played on, including one that went to the Eastern Conference finals. Ball said he believes the Bulls “are one of the top teams in the NBA.”
But Ball quickly added that there’s work to do, improvements to be made. This is where, again, the Bulls are as serious as a tax audit.
Asked why the Bulls are having such defensive success despite playing undersized lineups that often feature Ball or Caruso at power forward and Derrick Jones Jr. at center, DeRozan pointed to work.
“We watch more of our mistakes defensively than anything. We try to get better at things we can clean up. When you have a team where everyone is trying to help one another, it makes everybody’s job easier,” DeRozan said. “We hold everybody accountable in a positive way, not in a negative way. We don’t get down on one another. We uplift each other and move on to the next play if we make a mistake. That becomes contagious defensively.”
It bears repeating: There’s something special taking hold with this season’s Bulls. This early-season success isn’t a mirage. It’s built on a foundation of defensive havoc and offensive options and ball security.
And a foundation of trust, respect and selfless play.
“If you can’t tell by this (start), I don’t know,” DeRozan said. “You probably need to take some medicine or something.”