Much was made of the apparent gap between the Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks following the latter’s 4-1 first-round drubbing of the former in the playoffs last year. Outscored by nearly 15 points per game, the Bulls were clearly overmatched.
But the same can be said for a few of their opponents during the regular season.
It can be easy to forget with the rhetoric surrounding the team in light of the uncertainty surrounding Lonzo Ball that this team still held first place in the East in late February.
Fans were treated to spectacular heroics from DeMar DeRozan seemingly on a nightly basis along the way. On the other hand, opponents often suffered from it with DeRozan taking over the fourth quarter of games with clutch shot-making. He even hit several game-winning shots one of which made a rival rethink their direction.
DeRozan’s Dagger Ruined Pacers
During his latest appearance on J.J. Redick’s “The Old Man and The Three” podcast, DeRozan got into a variety of subjects including his game-winner versus the Indiana Pacers. As Redick pointed out, DeRozan struggled in that game going 8-for-24 from the floor.
But he finished 28 points – 13 of which came in the fourth quarter – thanks in part to 12 free-throw attempts.
He also hit a one-legged turn-around (on a three, no less) with time expiring to seal the victory.
“When DeMar DeRozan throws in a running one-foot three-pointer, that felt like a dagger to me,” Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan said during a recent radio appearance. “That group and that season, it was time for a new path. That group had reached its ceiling.” (h/t Alex Golden/”Setting The Pace” podcast)
DeRozan gave Redick his perspective on the shot which he says he “had” to take.
That game was on New Year’s Eve.
By the February trade deadline, Indiana had traded franchise cornerstone Domantas Sabonis to the Sacramento Kings for Tyrese Haliburton. Caris LeVert went to the rival Cleveland Cavaliers and Torrey Craig – whom DeRozan praised for his defense – went to the Phoenix Suns.
All from a seemingly innocuous game just weeks before the Bulls’ season flipped.
DeRozan on Healthy Zach LaVine
That game was exactly two weeks before a fateful blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors that saw both Ball and LaVine aggravate knee injuries. Both players have undergone surgeries to correct their respective issues.
Ball has yet to make his return and may not see the floor until well into the new year.
LaVine, however, declared himself healthy months ago after signing a new $215 million max contract and DeRozan says that is tough for opponents.
“It can be very exciting and scary for other people,” DeRozan said at Media Day. “A lot of my load last year was Zach being out. We always talked about making things easier on one another. Being so up and down and not having each other made it tough on both of us. Having a healthy Zach and healthy me makes our job and everybody’s else job around us a lot easier.”
DeRozan also gave LaVine his “due” after saying the guard is at least a top-10 NBA talent.
As is often the case, their respect is mutual.
LaVine Appreciates DeRozan
There was a rumor earlier in the summer that was perpetuated by Ball’s father LaVar and then reached league circles according to NBA correspondent Marc Stein. But teammate Javonte Green refuted that notion over the summer. More recently, LaVine himself essentially shot the rumor down without actually mentioning it.
“It’s good,” LaVine said. “We know each other. We’ve known each other. Obviously, we have a great relationship. And then continue to learn how to play off each other.”
Healthy and boasting strong chemistry, the duo combo could prove “scary” for opponents again.