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3 takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ 4th win in 5 games - Chicago Tribune
After taking an elbow to the face and hitting his head on the stanchion, Chicago Bulls guard Coby White went to the locker room with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter Monday night with a bloody nose. By the time the training staff stopped the bleeding so White could return to the sideline, the scoreboard made him do a double take.
“I went back (to the locker room), I think Zach (LaVine) had, like, (seven) points at the half,” White said after the Bulls’ 120-100 victory over the Houston Rockets. “I went back for like two or three minutes, and when I come back, I see Zach’s got 20. So I asked Wendell (Carter Jr.), like, ‘What happened?’
“And then I come back and I see we’re up by, like, 15. I said, ‘Something happened.’ ”
The Bulls erupted for their best quarter of the season, a 46-point third-quarter outburst that turned the game into a blowout. LaVine rattled off the team’s next 11 points after White’s departure and poured in 14 points in a little more than three minutes.
The breakout third quarter helped the Bulls win for the fourth time in five games, again taking care of business against a short-handed and struggling team. The Rockets, who had not played since Wednesday because of the severe weather in Houston, have lost eight consecutive games and were without guard Victor Oladipo and center DeMarcus Cousins.
The all-around contributions took the pressure off LaVine, who finished with 21 points but took only 14 shots.
Here are three takeaways from Monday’s game.
1. The Bulls are playing their best basketball of the season.
The Rockets’ season is spiraling and the Bulls will have tougher challenges ahead, but consider how far they have come since their preseason opener against the Rockets in December. They were blown out that night, offering a reminder of the uphill battle they would be facing to be more competitive with largely the same roster. Now they are playing their best basketball of the season.
“Light years from where we were last year,” Young said. “Same team pretty much, but just different mentality, different mindset. Different understanding of the game. Everybody is being utilized slightly different than they were last year. Overall this team is in a great space. We believe we can win every single game.”
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is crowded, but the Bulls are very much in the race. They finished Monday in eighth place — and only one game out of the sixth seed, which would avoid the play-in tournament.
They are 7-5 in February and next have a Wednesday matchup with the woeful Minnesota Timberwolves, who fired coach Ryan Saunders on Sunday night and hired Chris Finch to replace him. With a win, the Bulls could clinch their first winning month since December 2017, per Bulls stat guru Jeff Mangurten of WSCR-AM 670.
It all points to signs of progress. The Bulls have been atrocious at holding on to the ball, but they have cut their turnovers from around 18 per game the first two months to 13 in February (they had 12 Monday).
Even their defense has picked up. After an abysmal start, the Bulls are ninth defensively this month, holding opponents to 109.2 points per 100 possessions. And coach Billy Donovan sees them responding to adversity much better after getting blown out early in the season when they were unable to prevent things from snowballing.
“I’ve seen these guys make progress and make strides,” Donovan said. “These guys have done a good job coming into the end of this first half (of the season). From where we were in the first game to where we are now, the credit goes to those guys. They’ve put the work in to try to get better and improve in a lot of different areas.”
2. Playing Coby White off the ball more often is paying off.
The Bulls have been willing to live with a season of growth from White as he adjusts to starting full time and handling the lead guard duties. Over the last few games, however, the Bulls have made a minor adjustment with White.
Although he’s still bringing the ball up for his share of possessions and getting the Bulls into their offense, White has been playing off the ball more frequently in lineups featuring LaVine or Tomas Satoransky.
“It’s been more just trying to find different ways to generate or put him in situations where maybe he’s not initiating offense, but more so we’re going to him where he can get it in his hands and go create,” Donovan said. “It’s more an evolution of how we can best utilize him.”
Donovan has been unwavering in his commitment to White as the starting point guard, and the Bulls seem intent on giving him every opportunity to prove he can handle the role. But the team is trying to walk the line of developing its young talent while also winning.
White is lethal when he can catch and shoot, and this adjustment has given him more opportunities to do so. In his last five games, White has been much more effective on offense, averaging 16 points, six rebounds and four assists with a 44% shooting percentage while shooting 38% from 3.
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“It’s all about confidence first and foremost, just playing with confidence,” White said. “Coach is trying to put me in positions to use my strengths. I’ve been playing a little bit more confident. I feel a little bit more comfortable. And it’s been translating.”
3. Billy Donovan isn’t afraid to change up the rotations.
Even with injuries, the Bulls roster has some depth, at least with players up and down the roster with useful skill sets. Give Donovan credit for his willingness to remain flexible with his rotations each game depending on matchups and who is playing well.
Daniel Gafford made his way into the rotation when he started playing well but has been out of it while he has struggled. Luke Kornet had a chance but missed all but one of his 13 3-point attempts and has been on the outside looking in. Against a team like the Rockets, who utilize small lineups aggressively, neither backup center saw the floor until garbage time.
The latest player to earn his way onto the floor after a string of positive performances is guard Ryan Arcidiacono.
“We have a lot of expectations for ourselves too,” Arcidiacono said. “And know that when we go in there, whoever goes in from the bench unit brings the stability, brings the calm factor, lock us in, get us some good possessions.
“Because we know how young our starting lineup is, and sometimes they need that vet like Thad to come in and kind of calm down, where you can give him the ball and make decisions. Let Sato come in, handle the ball and get Coby off the ball a little bit. So we all play our role and we just have to keep shining in our roles.”