When the Chicago Bulls made their splashy trade for a second All-Star, they didn’t anticipate the Nikola Vucevic era would start off with four straight losses.
Neither did he.
That’s why their Sunday afternoon win over the Brooklyn Nets, even absent of Kevin Durant and James Harden, is so significant. It’s as close to a must-win as the Bulls have had all season.
For just the fourth time this season, Chicago put down a “winning” team. They’re now 4-19 against opponents with a .500 record or better at the time of the matchup this season.
Maybe now the focus can return to a playoff push. The Bulls may have to settle for a play-in tournament appearance, given that they’re 20-28 and four games back of the eighth-seed Boston Celtics.
They’ll need more games like Sunday’s to have a shot.
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Vucevic was almost dismissive of the Chicago Bulls’ struggles when speaking to reporters (via NBC Sports) following their 115-107 rout of the Brooklyn Nets:
I think its natural when you make big changes like we did that players are going to have tendencies to overthink things, make sure everybody fits in, that we don’t step on anybody’s toes.
But, he also acknowledged the task at hand, winning basketball games:
But at the same time, you just have to play your game and be who you are because that’s the reason all of us were brought here. I think each game was better. We’ve showed improvements.
Vucevic certainly played “his game” on Sunday, entering halftime with a double-double of 11 points and rebounds.
He’s consistently played well against Brooklyn this season, so it wasn’t surprising to see him finish out his first win in a Bulls uniform with 22 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks.
Vucevic’s fit in Chicago wasn’t ever picture perfect, but Sunday’s win is a solid reminder of what this team can be. The two-time All-Star offered high praise (via The Athletic) for his new team after the game:
They really want to win. They’re an unselfish group, and they stick together.
The Bulls’ recorded 29 assists on 43 made field goals against the Nets, so “unselfish” seems a fitting term.
Chicago’s long been one of the league’s better passing teams. They’re currently ranked eighth on the season in assists per game, and are as high as fifth in the NBA since Vucevic’s arrival.
Ironically, it’s ball movement that the big man cited in need of improvement:
I think what we have to figure out is once I get it, the movement off the ball. If they double-team, what should we do? If they’re just digging hard and let me play one-on-one? So just figure it out, and that’s just going to come with reps.
Hopefully he’s right, and the more reps this new-look Bulls team gets, the more fluid things become.
Because time isn’t on the side of a Chicago playoff push, with 24 games left to go.
They need Sunday’s win to be the first of many.