Wednesday night’s game itself was a dud for the Bulls as they were wiped off the court by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Chicago only scored 37 points in the first half and it was a blowout from then on in a 119-94 shellacking.
Injury luck has not been on the Chicago Bulls side when it comes to the rebuild. However, the Bulls got an unexpected plus on Wednesday night when it was announced that Zach LaVine would be coming back. LaVine gives what’s been an awful Bulls offense at least some kind of option, even though Boylen used a self-proclaimed ‘standard’ in bringing LaVine off the bench.
Even in the losing effort and in only 26 minutes where he was visibly limping at times, LaVine got buckets. He scored a game high 28 points on 10 of 17 shooting in 26 minutes. He showed good mobility and flashed the same ability we have seen all season, whether it was driving to the basket or hitting pull up jumpers off switches.
The key here is getting LaVine a defensive mismatch with space to operate. Initially it looks like LaVine is going to go towards the top of the three-point line when both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. arrive on the scene. His defender in Robert Covington anticipates this as well. He jumps in front when LaVine tries to go right. This stops WCJ from setting the screen but LaVine improvises. He spins back towards his left and at the same time, WCJ re-adjusts so he’s setting the pick with his back to the basket. Covington runs into the pick and is now out of the play. LaVine splits through both Markkanen and WCJ and goes into the paint. Karl-Anthony Towns now has to be alert on the switch. Thinking LaVine was going to drive, KAT takes a step back into the paint. But instead decides to step back to his right when he gets to the free-throw line. This gives him just enough space to rise up and hit the jumper.
This was the most impressive play of the night from LaVine. Initially the play looks like Robin Lopez looks like he’s going to give the ball to Shaq Harrison in the corner but he instead gives it to LaVine after the post guard leaves the corner. Lopez then sets a screen on Andrew Wiggins and the sequence begins. Gorgui Dieng, who was Lopez’s man, now is tasked with guarding the ball handler on the switch. All it takes is one inside-out dribble move, which freezes Dieng, and LaVine is flying past him. Dario Saric is the last defender in front of LaVine at the basket. LaVine has to also worry about Dieng running back for the block. With the left side of the hoop available, it would make sense for LaVine to try and lay the ball in there. That’s exactly what Saric thinks as he jumps across the lane. But LaVine doesn’t go that way. He jumps up and twists his body in a 180 degree motion, going in between Saric and Dieng. Just as he’s about to complete the spin, he flips the ball up with his right hand despite getting hit on the arm by Dieng. The ball bounces off the backboard and in, completing the spectacular and-one play.
With a healthy roster, at least among the latest ‘core’, we can finally evaluate how they work as a unit. And for that measure, this game wasn’t really a good start at all.
The Bulls had a 72.3 ORtg with Dunn/LaVine/Markkanen on the floor tonight in 12 minutes. Oof.— Jason Patt (@Bulls_Jay) December 27, 2018
If the trio can’t find a way to be a positive on the court, it spells disaster for Chicago’s future plans. But if there was one positive for the Bulls from this game, it was that LaVine provided some highlights.