A win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday was encouraging, but Thursday’s rematch with the Wizards was a true proving ground for the Bulls who were missing four players to health protocols in Lauri Markkanen, Ryan Arcidiacono, Chandler Hutchinson, and Tomas Satoransky.
It was a test of resiliency for a developing lineup still warming up to coach Billy Donovan’s standards and expectations in a new scheme. And Chicago took the challenges in stride.
Seven players scored in double digits as playmaking was aplenty with 34 assists dished to the tune of a 133-130 victory on Thursday night. Otto Porter Jr. paced the team with 28 points and 12 rebounds. Zach LaVine struggled, shooting 6 of 17 overall and 1 for 7 from long range, but mustered 22 points with a 9-10 shooting performance at the free-throw line, hitting several key free throws down the stretch.
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LaVine: ‘This Team is Tired of Being Labeled Losers’
In a game where the Bulls saw solid bench contributions, Thursday’s game was much more than just a win from LaVine’s perspective.
“This team is tired of being labeled losers and underachieving,” LaVine said. “Everything is not going to be perfect. We’re not going to go out and win every game. But our demeanor has been a lot better than it has been the last couple of years.”
Yes, Chicago (2-3) has two wins on the season against a winless Wizards (0-5) squad, however, to play the same team they just beat down four players, showed a will to win that the Bulls hope to carry into Friday’s matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, the winner of the last 11 meetings with Chicago.
The Bulls’ demeanor will likely not always be sweet in the midst of a season with many changes on the horizon, but after winning back-to-back games, Chicago has started to see the payoff of playing team-first basketball.
Bulls Moving on From Rough Start to Season
In his postgame press conference, Porter, who’s working his way back into game shape after several injury-riddled seasons, acknowledged the team’s progression under Donovan.
“It shows growth,” Bulls forward Otto Porter Jr. said. “As a team, with the circumstances going on, it just shows growth that we’re willing to learn and each game we just learn from our mistakes and moving on.”
The Bulls embodied Porter’s postgame message with 44 seconds left in the game when Russell Westbrook, who had already reached his routine triple-double, knifed to the rim but was met by a sliding LaVine who denied a rising Westbrook to preserve Chicago’s one-point lead.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 1, 2021
Coby White, who finished the game with 16 points and 10 assists, played solid defensively on Bradley Beal on the following Wizards’ possession, challenging Beal at the rim and providing enough pressure to force a miss on a go-ahead basket by the All-Star two-guard. Porter cleaned up after White’s stop by hitting a pair of free throws to clinch the game.
Donovan reflected on the game and echoed Porter’s sentiment.
“It was some growth because I thought in the Indiana game when we got kind of hit during that second half we just didn’t come back and compete. And I thought we fought a lot better (Thursday) in the midst of a lot of runs and momentum changing and shifting and having to kind of regroup and refocus,” Donovan said. “We made some plays coming down the stretch which was great to see.”
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