DENVER --- Just over an hour before tipoff, Zach LaVine pulled out the colorful shoes he chose to wear Wednesday night.
“Can’t lose in these, right?” LaVine said.
On one shoe was the name of LaVine’s son, Saint. On the other was “8-24-22,” the date LaVine and his wife, Hunter, welcomed their first child into the world.
Hours later, LaVine celebrated the Chicago Bulls’ stunning and decisive 117-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets with his wife and parents and entire family, who had flown to the game to surprise him.
LaVine authored yet another elite offensive performance, finishing with 29 points on 12-for-18 shooting and setting the tone for the Bulls’ free-flowing night with quick, authoritative decisions.
“A guy like Zach, who can be so efficient and score in so many ways, it’s hard to defend that. Especially with all the weapons we have around him,” Nikola Vucevic said. “When he’s decisive and makes the right plays and it’s quick, it opens up so much for us.”
LaVine finished 9-for-9 in the restricted area, repeatedly attacking closeouts and either getting to the rim or spraying a pass out to shooters. LaVine finished with four assists.
LaVine’s most emphatic basket came early in the third quarter when Alex Caruso hit him with a hit-ahead pass in transition and LaVine threw down a powerful dunk. That Aaron Gordon trailed on the play and could only sit and watch seemed fitting given their epic slam-dunk contest battles over the years that LaVine won.
“When we get stops, I don’t think anybody can guard us in transition with the talent we have,” LaVine said. “I was able to get downhill, create. I’ve been feeling that way for awhile now. Keep it going.”
That’s the mentality Patrick Beverley said he wanted to see from LaVine when Beverley first arrived. It’s the mentality coach Billy Donovan reiterated is needed if the Bulls want to get to the playoffs.
“Because Zach is such a great scorer, there’s times he’s thinking about how does he get others involved,” Donovan said. “And he has to understand that for our team, being quick and decisive and aggressive is what we need from him.”
LaVine knows the Bulls have little margin for error should they want to crash the play-in picture. He knows the Bulls have defeated elite teams like the Nuggets before only to let down in subsequent games.
So whether his family travels to Houston for Saturday’s game or not, expect LaVine’s aggressive play to continue.
“At this point, we don’t care about what happened before,” LaVine said. “We’re trying to win every game because that’s the position we put ourselves in. We exhausted all our mistakes and throwaway games.”