Bulls

Bulls' win streak good time to focus on LaVine's strengths, not weaknesses

Bulls' win streak good time to focus on LaVine's strengths, not weaknesses

Zach LaVine’s finish in the Bulls’ 106-99 victory over the Grizzlies will draw the headlines, and rightfully so.

LaVine put the Bulls on his back after their 22-point lead had dwindled to one with 4 minutes, 29 seconds remaining. In leading the Bulls to their first two-game win streak this season, LaVine — deep breath here — sank a 3-pointer out of a timeout, buried a 23-footer, strongly contested a Jae Crowder miss, assisted on a Kris Dunn’s 3-pointer, sank two free throws and assisted on a Lauri Markkanen’s 3-pointer.

In less than three minutes of work, the Bulls’ lead ballooned to 11.

"It's the way I see myself playing. I don't put all this hard work in just to be a regular dude. I expect myself to do this and even more,” LaVine said. “Whatever I have to do to contribute to winning, if that's 10 points or if that’s 40, I'm going to do the best I can with it. I’m in a good place right now. I’m trying to stay in it.”

But there’s another play that occurred late in the first quarter that tells another story about LaVine. Tomas Satoransky — strong again with 13 points, eight assists and six rebounds — rifled an alley-oop to a cutting LaVine. The trajectory of the pass was more on a line than a lob. LaVine not only caught it, but dunked it, despite catching it from far from the basket.

“He made me look good,” Satoransky said, laughing. “We all know how athletic he is. We see it every day. But sometimes you have those plays where you’re like, ‘Wow.’ Even if you’re his teammate.”

The point is this: LaVine’s faults are dissected and discussed plenty — sometimes with good reason. But he still possesses the ability to make plays or author performances — we’re looking at you, Charlotte road victory — that not many players in the league can.

Now that his minutes are increasing and his fourth quarter opportunities are too, LaVine is producing.

“I’ve made plays before. I made a lot of plays last year and even my first year here. I don’t know why they switched up,” LaVine said, alluding to fewer minutes until lately. “Obviously, I’m going to continue to make the plays when my number is called.

“You just know the moment. When opportunity knocks, you gotta open the door. You have to at least to have the courage to step up to it. I’m not scared to take or miss any shot. I do take that upon myself. And I expect myself to make those type of plays.”

LaVine is on quite the roll. That’s four straight games with at least 25 points and three straight games with double-digit free-throw attempts, always a good sign for him. He’s not just scoring, either. He’s scoring efficiently.

He’s shooting 50.4 percent overall over his last six games and 55.5 percent from 3-point range.

“He played the right way, let it come to him,” coach Jim Boylen said. “And then like great players do, he took over at the end when it was his time.”

Boylen has challenged LaVine to be more of a two-way player. That’s why when asked what he liked offensively about LaVine’s recent run, he zigged instead of zagging.

“What I like is what he’s done on the defensive end. I think he’s locked in. He’s guarded the best wing on the other team often in the last five games. He has competed,” Boylen said. “His minutes are up. He’s taking open looks and knocking down shots. He’s getting to the free throw line. He’s working at becoming who we think he can be, a two-way player and winning player.”

That’s two straight wins, with LaVine having his fingerprints all over them.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls swept by Bucks in 2020

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls swept by Bucks in 2020

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson discuss the Bulls loss to the Bucks, pick their lineups for the 2020 All-Star game, and discuss acceptable basketball tattoos.

1:00 - The difference between the Bucks and Bulls is staggering

3:20 - What is going on with Lauri Markkanen?

5:00 - How bad does Zach LaVine's back hurt after carrying this squad?

6:30 - Jim Boylen just refuses to play Denzel Valentine

8:30 - Why do the Bulls keep falling apart in the 2nd half?

10:00 - Which players progressed for the Bulls this season?

12:00 - Viewer comment about Bulls playoff chances

15:10 - The guys pick their starters for the 2020 All Star Game

21:45 - Viewer comments about Spencer Dinwiddie/Derrick Rose

24:20 - David Kaplan got a tattoo!

25:30 - If you had to get a basketball tattoo what would it be

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

Subscribe:

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Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solution isn't simple

Lauri Markkanen's struggles are a daily storyline, but the solution isn't simple

MILWAUKEE — When Thad Young played for the Pacers, this was, according to Young, that team’s scouting report on Lauri Markkanen:

“He’s a guy who can score in different levels of the game. He can shoot the midrange. He can take you off the dribble and do his hanging fade to get his shot off. Or he can step behind the line and tee up some 3s,” Young said. “So we tried to keep him seeing bodies so he wouldn’t take the ball from one side to the other.”

Markkanen’s struggles — and the Bulls’ usage of him — is becoming an almost daily storyline. It certainly dominated Monday’s postgame questioning after the Bulls dropped to 1-18 versus winning teams with a 111-98 loss to the Bucks.

For the second time in three games, Markkanen failed to score in the second half. Seven of his 11 attempts came from 3-point range — all of which he missed. His eight points came from two putbacks and four free throws.

That’s it.

“He missed some shots he normally makes. That happens,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought he was moving well. He had a couple great cuts to the basket, opportunities at the rim. That’s what we want from him — inside, outside.”

But that’s not happening enough. Fifty-three percent of Markkanen’s attempts this season have been 3-pointers. That’s up 11.5 percent from last season and 4.1 percent from his rookie season.

Too often, Markkanen is being relegated to playing as a stationary, 3-point shooter and not the dynamic, multifaceted scorer for whom Young’s Pacers teams prepared.

“Yeah, I think I can do a lot of good things besides just shoot threes,’’ Markkanen said. “Haven’t really been able to do that lately. Just have to figure out the way I can attack the rim more and get to the free-throw line. I need to figure out my spots.”

This is not meant to fully absolve Markkanen, who has indeed missed open looks consistently this season. For the second straight game, Markkanen joked about how Boylen called a play for him on the first possession, only for Markkanen to turn it over.

Markkanen also again acknowledged the sore left ankle he is playing through as he tries to reach his well documented goal of playing all 82 games. Markkanen called the ankle “not normal but getting there” and also shook off banging knees with Donte DiVincenzo that left him running hobbled for a few possessions.

Markkanen said he has no problem talking to Boylen about his usage and, as is his nature, looked inward.

“We’ve talked about it. He ran some plays for me. I turned it over. He does run some stuff for me. I just have to make the plays,” he said. “If you shoot the ball like [I have], you don’t really deserve touches. Can’t really complain.

“When you’re feeling it and actually making shots, it would be good to get closer to the rim and kind of keep it going. A lot of our plays I screen and pop.’’

The Bulls tied their franchise record with 48 3-point attempts. Boylen said that was the gameplan since opponents averaged 40 3-point attempts and 17.5 makes in the Bucks’ mere six losses.

Never mind that even if the Bulls hadn’t gone ice cold in the second half to finish with 14 makes that adding 3.5 more makes would’ve still left them on the losing end. The Markkanen problem is bigger than a math problem.

“I think the system complements him to the point where he has a lot of freedom to do different things,” Young said. “If he’s open, he takes a 3. If he’s not, he tries to make a play. He’s doing the best he can, just like me and any other guy on this roster. He has to continue to believe in what we’re doing.”

Markkanen now has nine single-digit scoring games after posting just four last season. He has nine 20-point games after registering 22 last season.

This is a huge season for Markkanen not only because his success is tied into the success of the Bulls’ rebuild but also because he’ll be eligible for an extension of his rookie contract following this season.

“I know he’s going to work. And he cares. He has high character,” Boylen said. “I believe in him. And our team believes in him.”

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