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Bulls vs. Knicks highlights: Zach LaVine’s career high masking the bad team around him

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some nice moments from the rookies too

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s your Zach LaVine mixtape from the Bulls win over the Knicks Monday night, a performance so good that even the official NBA YouTube channel made it:

You can skip ahead to the 4th quarter to see the real scoring brilliance from LaVine, as he he scored 21 of his career-high 41 in that final period and two extra ones. It looked to show a bit of a progression, too. While he started off this time launching bombs (and that has a bad connotation - these are shots he can comfortably make), that stopped falling and he went inside.

It was likely a product of being tired, as 49 minutes was also a career-high (Hoiberg worse than Thibs?!?!?). Maybe fatigue led to some turnovers as well, LaVine had several including a couple that were due to stepping out of bounds (as ‘Riles23’ reminded me in the comments, this is accurately called ‘a Daequan Cook’) but LaVine deserves extra commendation for doing this as the obvious focal point for any defense: he was out there with Cameron Payne as a PG, Robin Lopez as a center, an admittedly fairly-useful floor spacer in Justin Holiday, but the fairly-useless Jabari Parker.

Speaking of, he and the Bulls defense still had some awful moments. The Knicks offensive rating was merely 102, but their team last night was even more sparse in talent than the Bulls. I think we set a new record for Neil Funk guffaws (partial retirement not enough!). The breakdowns happened at critical points where the game could’ve been put away.

First on this Allonzo Trier three off of a long rebound which tied the game late in regulation.

Then at the end of double-OT, the rare end-to-end layup in an NBA game. Holiday made a weak attempt to draw an offensive foul, while Payne and Parker took interesting routes away from stopping the ball.

So this team still mostly stinks out loud, but unlike the Knicks even-worse roster the Bulls do have an all-star level scorer, where thankfully the late plays broke his way this time. The team was certainly due after some close losses last week.

Other random side-swipes:

  • I wouldn’t say Wendell Carter had a great game, as he did foul out in 22 minutes. But he did a lot great things, which is even better from an excitability standpoint.

He had 2 blocks but countless ‘verticality’ challenges at the rim. He even did a solid job at first manning up on Enes Kanter post-ups.

  • Kanter certainly found is groove later though, and that plus the ridiculous offensive rebounding effort the Knicks frontcourt put on led to Hoiberg dusting off Robin Lopez. Felicio was awful in his time on the floor, and Lopez played 17 minutes beginning in the 4th quarter. Earlier this season Lopez was so poor that a choice between him and Felicio seemed marginal, but besides Felicio still showing good finishing ability as the roll-man it now looks like his place in the rotation is a more obvious ‘developmental’ move than one based in merit.
  • Speaking of the downside of this battered roster, the Bulls PG play is abysmal. Want to feel old? The Cam Payne game was 2 weeks ago. Since then Payne has shot 38% overall and under 24% from three. And he’s out there taking a few shots in crunch time in this Knicks game, ugh. Payne is also a terrible defensive player, good for a couple potential swipes but gets run over way too easily and has the same affliction of most of the roster in not knowing how to pay attention when not guarding the ball. Brian Arrivederci at least does a little more on the defensive end, but outside of a gilded assist/turnover ratio (he should’ve gotten a turnover last night but the Knicks coughed the ball right back. Damnit now I have to see another KC Johnson tweet about the ratio!) he’s just not a threat to score at all. In his last 115 minutes across 5 games he’s scored 16 points.

There’s not much that can be done, here. I suppose you could mothball Payne, start New Grit considering LaVine and Parker will take the shots, and have Blakeney as the backup running the whole second unit. Stacey King had a nice line about Blakeney’s refusal to pass inside where the Bulls had a mismatch, saying “in his mind, he always has the matchup [advantage]”. And if you need a shooting guard in this scenario, use Shaq Harrison.

  • Chandler Hutchison had a couple nice takes. He needs his jump shot totally rebuilt though.

Which isn’t great news but I’d prefer that needing work versus defensive awareness and versatility.

  • I think a loss last night, especially after LaVine’s heroics in the 4th quarter, would’ve been extra-crushing for the players. And it was frighteningly close to happening, especially on the final play in regulation. So while a lot these dudes annoy me when they’re acting ridiculous on the bench and after meager success on the court (you’re Cam Payne, man, settle down), I have to rationalize that I’d be ok with the histrionics if they were better at basketball. And they can’t do much to change that. And I also don’t think they’re going to be humbled by defeat (the team has pumped them up beyond any self-awareness), and they’d only get depressed, and I don’t want that!