The Bulls broke their losing skid and ended their quick three-game road trip on a high note with a commanding win over the lowly Phoenix Suns. Here are three observations from that.
Lauri Markkanen still can’t find his stroke
The raw numbers weren’t going to be an issue for Lauri Markkanen on Monday night, squaring off against the 29th-ranked Suns defense. So it wasn’t all that surprising that he put it on the Suns for 17 points and nine rebounds in 31 otherwise methodical minutes. He added a pair of blocks – the first time he’s done that since before the All-Star break – and had some good moments as expected.
But Markkanen’s final line wasn’t all that. He had three buckets in the latter half of the fourth quarter with the game essentially out of reach. Until that point Markkanen had just 11 points on an otherwise pedestrian night. His late baskets still count, of course, and he didn’t have to do as much with an aggressive Zach LaVine and Robin Lopez doing his 20-point thing, but this was a night for Markkanen to really stretch his wings and try to get out of his slump.
Instead he struggled from deep again and didn’t seem all that aggressive against a defense that was allowing the Bulls into the paint whenever they wanted. Markkanen was 7 of 15 from the field, but just 2 of 6 from outside the paint. He buried an open triple, had a few good drives for buckets and went back to the patented Lauri Drag Step, but the night still felt lacking.
As we’ve said before, perhaps we’ve been spoiled by what Markkanen did in February to expect more of that each night. But against a terrible Suns defense this was really a chance for Markkanen to feast and it didn’t happen, despite the decent final line.
A loss…wouldn’t have been the worst thing
Right before the Bulls tipped off in Phoenix the red-hot Cavaliers won again. You read that correctly. The jump-start Cavs, led by rookie Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman, closed out the playoff-bound Pistons, who were without a resting Blake Griffin.
So as the Bulls tipped off against the Suns, they were just a single game back of the Cavaliers for the third worst record in the NBA and, thus, a 14 percent chance at winning the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes.
A few hours later the Bulls had won and so they didn’t “gain” any ground on the Cavaliers. With just 10 games left in the regular season it’s getting more difficult to see the Bulls catching Cleveland to join the 14 percent club.
Per Tankathon, Cleveland has the fifth toughest schedule in the NBA remaining. True, they’ve knocked off some playoff teams of late, but that’s still tough sledding when considering they need three wins AND the Bulls to go winless the rest of the way to be caught by Chicago. The Bulls have the 13th most difficult schedule remaining, for whatever that’s worth.
The Bulls will take the win, breaking a five-game skid. But a loss wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. The 14 percent’ers will have to wait until Wednesday.
Shaq Harrison continues to prove his worth
OK, it wasn’t all bad. Zach LaVine had an excellent all-around night, the bench was great and the offense posted 116 points and did so without Otto Porter Jr. And the man who replaced Porter in the starting lineup, Shaq Harrison, may have had the best night of anyone.
As has been the case with Harrison in most of his good nights, his statline won’t jump out. But Harrison’s 6-point, 3-rebound, 3-steal night was exactly what the Bulls needed to complement what Lopez, LaVine and birthday boy Kris Dunn (14 points) were doing.
Harrison was playing passing lanes, making his patented effort plays and was once again strong going to the rim. He’s never going to be a plus on the offensive end but the more aggressive he is attacking the basket, the better off he’s going to be.
And he knows his value. Harrison attempted nine shots and all came in the restricted area. As is the case with him, he was just 3 of 9 on those shots. But good on him to know where he’s needed on the offensive end. He’s passing out of looks that the defense might be giving him to open up a better look for the Bulls offense. He continues to play himself into the conversation for a nice contract this summer.