The Chicago Bulls dug deep for a 111-107 road win against the Brooklyn Nets last Saturday, securing their second win and clinching the season series over the Eastern Conference’s top seed, trailing them by half a game in the standings The 6-time Champions also admirably got the scalp of the other Big Apple team, the New York Knicks in similar fashion two days before, proving to be a difficult nut to crack in the East and in contention for a playoffs berth for the first time since 2017.
Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan combine for 60 PTS in the @chicagobulls win!@ZachLaVine 31 PTS, 8 REB, 6 AST@DeMar_DeRozan 29 PTS, 6 REB pic.twitter.com/gK7Kl2KqcC — NBA (@NBA) December 5, 2021
DEMAR DOES NO WRONG Not a few observers felt the Bulls‘ acquisition of DeRozan was a bad decision, noting that the high-flying four-time All-Star has already played out his prime years. But lo and behold, the 32-year-old is having arguably his finest season yet, as he has become one of the early MVP contenders. DeRozan leads the team with an average of 26.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game and is actually one of the best scorers in the NBA this season. He has now scored 178 points in the fourth quarter — first in the league by a wide margin — on 63-119 (52.9 percent) field-goal shooting, 47-for-52 (90.4 percent) from the foul line. He is proving to be a presence in crunch-time, wholly stabilizing for a group pulling out tight games with a level of consistency unseen in recent years.
DeMar DeRozan in the 4Q this season: 178 PTS (1st in NBA) 7.7 PPG (1st) 53/46/90% 63 FGM (1st) 119 FGA (1st) 5-11 3P 52 FTA (3rd) The Bulls are +69 with DeRozan in 4Qs, the highest +/- by any player with 200+ minutes. pic.twitter.com/wXHAtsIMwv — StatMuse (@statmuse) December 5, 2021
LaVine has chipped in with more than 25 points per game, along with 5.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He already ranks second in Bulls history — you can probably guess the identity of the leader—in 40-point games (14) and 25-points-per-game seasons (three in a row). This season, he is not shooting with the outrageous efficiency he enjoyed in 2020-21, but he has not fallen far either, relative to a league that is shooting worse as a whole. Last season, LaVine’s true shooting percentage was 11 percent better than average; this season, he is 9 percent better despite playing with a torn ligament in his thumb.
Closers in Brooklyn. Zach LaVine: 31 pts (7 in the 4th quarter) DeMar DeRozan: 29 pts (13 in the 4th quarter) 📰 | @SamSmithHoops game recap: — Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 5, 2021
TOGETHER AND APART Coaches take different approaches to deploying two stars, but the Bulls’ duo operates with strict stagger rules. Over their first 26 games, the Bulls have not played a single minute with both LaVine and DeRozan on the bench. Billy Donovan ensures he has at least one of his top two scorers available at all times, and they seem to have adapted to the variable demands of one-star versus two-star lineups with ease: Both LaVine and DeRozan are shooting the ball a lot more, albeit with a little less efficiency, when the other one rests. DeRozan-only lineups have steamrolled opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions, per PBPStats.com, while LaVine-only lineups are minus-7.4 points per 100. But much of the difference stems from random luck with opponents’ shots. They are hitting 41 percent of their 3s versus LaVine-only lineups, versus just 32 percent against DeRozan-only units—and a return to form from Nikola Vucevic, who missed seven games due to a COVID-19 diagnosis and has suffered a career-worst shooting slump while on the court, would certainly bolster lineups with DeRozan on the bench.
Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan tonight: -LaVine: 31 Points, 8 Rebounds, 6 Assists – DeRozan: 29 Points, 6 Rebounds, 3 Assists This duo. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/qM2O9kswFR — Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) December 5, 2021
PLAYOFFS BERTH LOOKING LIKELY From the foregoing, the Bulls are heading back to their glory days, as the LaVine-DeRozan partnership is proving naysayers wrong. It took quite some time, but the Bulls look like Finals contenders and are playing with a spring in their step, something the fans have not seen since the Derrick Rose era. Given how balanced the team is and how they have fared over 26 games, it goes without saying that the Bulls won big during the offseason, bringing in the mid-range maestro DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to join Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Many wondered if they would eventually gel going by how LaVine and DeRozan like to have the ball in their hands, but it has been so far, so good.
Sunday standings check ☕️ pic.twitter.com/OOmcE9oPJi — Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 5, 2021