PHILADELPHIA -- It’s not a surprise to see Zach LaVine leading the Bulls’ offense.
The $78-million man was terrific despite a 127-108 loss to the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday. LaVine poured in 30 points on 11 of 19 from the field.
What may come as a surprise is the brilliance of Bobby Portis. Portis was excellent in his own right, recording 20 points and 11 boards while playing his usual aggressive brand of basketball.
Unfortunately, both players found themselves in foul trouble early in the second half as Philadelphia started to impose its will with a 19-3 run to start the third quarter.
The Bulls got off to a blazing hot start, scoring 41 points in the opening quarter. They trailed by just seven at the half thanks in large part to LaVine and Portis. The duo worked well together in the pick-and-roll, at times confusing the 76ers on how exactly to play it.
“I expect that,” LaVine said when asked about the team’s early offensive output. “That’s what I expect from myself and I know Bobby is right there with me. Bobby had it going and that’s what he’s been doing for the last year or so, too, so that’s what we expect.”
Perhaps the play of Portis shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his success against Philadelphia in his career. He tallied a career-high 38 points in a one-point loss to the Sixers last season. He’s also shot 55 percent against them for his career in 11 games coming into tonight, his second-highest mark against any team.
With rookie Wendell Carter Jr. struggling in his first NBA start, Portis saw some time at the five, something Hoiberg alluded to as a possibility prior to the game. Portis earned the start in place of the injured Lauri Markkanen with an impressive preseason. His play carried over into opening night.
Portis may not be long for the starting lineup once Markkanen returns, but he certainly showed his worth Thursday.
As for LaVine, he showed flashes of a guy that can be the focal point of an offense. While he had the jumper working, his finishes around the rim were more impressive. Especially when you consider a few of them came against Joel Embiid, the runner up for Defensive Player of the Year last season.
“I love Zach’s attack,” Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought, especially early in the game, he didn’t settle for shots. He was getting around his guy and seeking contact and doing a good job getting to the free throw line.”
The Bulls weren’t expected to win this game and will experience plenty of growing pains this season – especially while the injuries continue to pile up.
What Bulls fans can glean from opening night is that the team’s investment in a healthy LaVine may prove to be money well spent.
“Yeah, man,” LaVine said after he was asked if he’s feeling healthier than he did last year. “A year after tearing my ACL I feel like I’m back to myself – athletically, speed-wise, quickness. I’ve got my legs under me. I just needed y’all to give me a little bit of time.
“I was about 70 percent last year and I think I did alright. I feel good now. It feels good to be back in my own skin again.”