The Bulls picked up a much-needed win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. Here's some observations:
More men down
Daniel Gafford, after opening the Bulls’ scoring with an alley-oop, left this one just a minute-and-a-half in with a rather gruesome looking right thumb injury. Adding further insult:
Today is the 1-year anniversary of Wendell Carter Jr.'s season-ending thumb injury. https://t.co/pJSB6D2LDF— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 16, 2020
Worse, the Bulls later confirmed in a statement that Gafford dislocated the thumb and will miss two-to-four weeks.
And the injury bug wasn’t done biting. Early in the fourth quarter, Chandler Hutchison left the game after a hard fall on a rather impressive dunk. The extent of the injury isn’t known, but Hutchison had been enjoying his best performance (11 points, 5-for-7 shooting) since returning from a shoulder injury on Jan. 6. That time of the year.
A preview of the new rotation?
The remainder of the game served as a peek into what life without both Gafford and Wendell Carter Jr. could entail. In terms of the rotation, Boylen cycled Luke Kornet (35 minutes) with Lauri Markkanen (31 minutes), Thad Young (21 minutes) and even Cristiano Felicio (seven minutes) in the frontcourt, with Markkanen seeing more time at center than he has to this point in the season (but still not a ton).
Young played well, notching 18 points (7-for-9 shooting) and eight rebounds with some key early fourth-quarter buckets. His lack of minutes was peculiar. Kornet had 10 points, a block and hit a 3-pointer; Felicio was unimpactful. Markkanen started assertive against a slow-footed Wizards’ frontcourt, but ended the night with only 13 on eight shots.
The Bulls did switch up their pick-and-roll coverages on occasion but still opted to blitz in most situations. The Wizards finished the night with 16 turnovers, from which the Bulls generated 26 points.
Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal took turns
This was billed by many (including myself) as a matchup, first and foremost, between two all-star contenders in Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal. They both showed up.
The first half belonged to Beal — he split traps and got to his spots with ease throughout en route to 17 points on 5-for-6 shooting (2-for-2 from deep) in the opening two quarters. In one fun moment, after LaVine fouled him on a layup attempt in the second, Beal mean-mugged the UC crowd and gestured with his palm of his hand facing the ground as if to indicate that LaVine was ‘too small’ for him.
But LaVine awoke in the third, scoring nine in the frame and 17 in the second half overall. He brought the goods all night long:
AIR LAVINE IS TAKING OFF pic.twitter.com/5ccBlEZMnk— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 16, 2020
Too easy for Zach pic.twitter.com/rl31c4d4Av— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 16, 2020
Ultimately, it was LaVine who came out on top, in the final score column and the stat sheet. He finished the night with 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists on 12-for-21 shooting, 6-for-11 from deep (LaVine’s fifth straight game with 25+ points). His eight points in the fourth quarter largely iced the game.
A true barometer
This was a competitive, back-and-forth game between two teams that appeared relatively evenly matched. That should tell you something about where the Bulls are right now.
The spurts felt familiar (it is a ‘game of runs’ after all). For the second game in a row, the Bulls came out of the half frothing — atypical for a team that’s third-quarter net rating entering tonight ranked 27th in the NBA — and sprinted out to a 22-6 run in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. The Wizards clawed their way back to within five entering the fourth, and it was tug-of-war from there until the Bulls pulled away with about five minutes to go.
It’s a feel-good win, though marred by injury, in front of the home crowd. The Bulls have now one two of three. Philadelphia on Friday will be a major test.