The perpetually rising and falling tides have lifted the Chicago Bulls (18-21) once again following their 126-112 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia was without star big man Joel Embiid but the Bulls have dropped similar games as recently as a couple of contests ago against the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers.
Bulls guard Zach LaVine went off for 41 points, his second time reaching the mark this season and his second-highest mark of the season.
“We started a little slow and then coming into the end of the second quarter I got hot and just kept it going,” LaVine said in his walk-off interview with Adam Amin and Stacey King of NBC Sports Chicago. “And I got hot and that’s what happens.”
The two-time All-Star went on to offer even higher praise for teammate Nikola Vucevic.
Zach LaVine Pumps Up Nikola Vucevic
“I really think the MVP of the game was Vooch,” LaVine said after confirming Vucevic finished with a triple-double, his first of the season. “I think Vooch was MVP of the night, man. 20 [points], 20 [rebounds], and 10 [assists].”
Vucevic – who actually finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds to go with his 10 dimes – got off to a hot start going for nine points, seven rebounds, and one block in the first quarter alone. He added another five points and five boards in the second leading to a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double in the first half.
It was his 20th of the season which is good for seventh in the league. The Bulls have gone 11-9 in those games.
He tallied another five-point, five-board effort in the third quarter adding six assists.
Vucevic was quiet in the fourth quarter missing his lone attempt but he did notch another pair of assists. He was not needed for much more since LaVine’s takeover which began with a 19-point outburst in the third quarter and nine key points in the final frame.
It was another nice game in a stretch of them for the two-time All-Star big man who has gone from a celebrated addition in 2020 to often being a scapegoat when things go awry.
Vucevic is averaging 20 points on 76.4% true shooting and 14.7 rebounds these last two games.
LaVine finished with 11 made threes, joining Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry as the only other player to knock down as many looks while connecting on at least 80% of them, per NBA History. It was also the second-most made threes during a single game in franchise history, two behind a mark LaVine set in 2019 against the Charlotte Hornets.
“I got it going and once I get going, that basket look like an ocean,” he said with a smile to finish the interview.
LaVine is the only player in franchise history to hit at least 10 threes in a game and has now done so three times.
Applause For Patrick Williams
LaVine’s words of positivity weren’t reserved merely for Vucevic, who is in the final year of his contract and appears headed for unrestricted free agency if he is not traded before the February 9 deadline.
He also talked up third-year forward Patrick Williams whose progress has been a topic of discussion since this summer, often in a negative context.
“Pat came out in the third quarter and played great. I think he had 16 [points] in the third.”
Williams finished with 18 points, six rebounds, and two assists just one game after going off for a season-high 22 points in the Bulls’ 121-112 win which snapped the Brooklyn Nets’ winning streak at 12 games despite LaVine scoring just 13 points.
Perhaps as encouraging for this iteration of the Bulls, Williams is knocking down 55.6% of his looks from deep over the last two games.
“Did great. Energy-wise, Pat stepped up to the challenge,” LaVine said after Williams’ efforts against Kevin Durant in the win over Brooklyn – efforts Durant himself cited for the Bulls getting the upset victory.
Bulls Climbing The Standings
Don’t look now but the Bulls have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games and have overtaken the Atlanta Hawks for the nine-seed in the East courtesy of a better conference record. They rank seventh in the Eastern Conference and 11th in the NBA with a plus-2.6 net rating in that span, per NBA.com data.
They still have an uphill climb ahead of them with matchups against Lauri Markkanen and the Utah Jazz as well as Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics on deck.
Of course, they have already beaten both teams this season going 2-1 against Boston so far.
The Bulls are 6-1 against the top three teams in the East and could be in the early stages of a potentially season-altering run. But it is going to take a consistent emphasis on the things they have shown in each of these last two victories.