The good vibes have returned for the Chicago Bulls. Once dampened by their 133-118 loss to the Houston Rockets, spirits are back up as the Bulls have logged back-to-back wins for just the fifth time this season outside of a three-game win streak.
They have now won five of their last seven outings and are one half-game out of the nine-seed after clawing back into the Play-In Tournament field.
It is small but notable progress that has coincided with a return to form for Zach LaVine.
LaVine is never one to lack confidence and expressed that he has been feeling better for some time now, even before the reported blowup in the locker room at halftime of the Bulls’ 150-126 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. But, following his 43-point outburst against the Detroit Pistons, teammate DeMar DeRozan made a strong declaration.
DeRozan Gets Wish With LaVine
“Not nothing surprising,” DeRozan said after the game. “That’s the Zach we all know. He got us going early. He set the table for the rest of the game. Stayed aggressive, hit his shots. Was aggressive getting downhill. That’s the Zach we all know.”
LaVine was lacking his trademark burst to begin the year. It resulted in him struggling to finish at the rim and fewer trips to the free-throw line. He is averaging 24.9 points on 63.7% true shooting over the last 15 games, up from 20.9 points on 52.9% to begin the season.
He was shooting just 57.7% in the restricted area in that earlier span, a number that has risen to a blistering 78.8% from November 30 on. The two-time All-Star is also shooting 41.6% from beyond the arc, a big boost for Chicago, but a dunk held a special level of significance for the two-time Slam Dunk champion.
“I was just a little hyped up,” LaVine said. “Being able to get up and dunk emphatically like that again is – I’m starting to feel good and be able to do that again.”
That has to be music to DeRozan’s ears.
This summer, as there was speculation over LaVine’s future as an unrestricted free agent coming off knee surgery, DeRozan could only wonder in amazement at what their partnership would look like with LaVine healthy.
LaVine battled through a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery this offseason and prevented him from participating in any activities until training camp he said.
“I can’t tell you how many times I talked to him this summer just checking on him,” DeRozan said at media day. “I want to be with a healthy Zach. A full year of that is something I dream about every single night. A healthy Zach makes our lives a lot easier.”
My Turn, Your Turn
LaVine’s big night comes on the heels of DeRozan’s 42-point effort in a 119-113 overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks. He had high praise for his teammate after that performance which featured a brouhaha with Bucks guard Grayson Allen.
Asked about how that dynamic plays out nightly, DeRozan suggested it isn’t planned.
“It’s a feel,” DeRozan said. “A game like tonight, you see how Zach came out, we rode him. It’s going to be nights like that where whoever’s got it going, that’s how we’ve got to play off each other. Keep it going. And tonight was a perfect night and perfect example of that. We try to follow the lead of the guy who comes out aggressive that way and sets the tone for us all.”
Playing off each other and setting the tone were just two of the things this group was struggling with amid their skid.
It seems to be coming together at the right time, though.
“Everybody’s touching it,” LaVine said. “In those situations, you don’t want to get to a spot to where you throw it to a guy who hasn’t touched it or seen the ball in 10 minutes. We’re trusting each other….It was good to see us all play together.”
That has been easy to do against a Pistons squad missing Cade Cunningham and a Bucks squad missing both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton.
Their upcoming slate is sure to provide even tougher challenges.