Bulls’ young core taking baby steps
LaVine, Markkanen, Dunn thrive in 2nd half of 1st start together
WASHINGTON — It’s a work in progress.
That’s what the Bulls say about their rebuild. And that’s what they say about the chemistry needed among Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, the acquisitions from the rebuild and Jimmy Butler trade.
Consider their 101-92 victory over theWizards on Friday night symbolic then.
In their first start together this season because of various injuries, the trio — and the Bulls — endured a dreadful first half in which LaVine took just three shots and the Bulls scored only 40 points from an offense that looked stuck in mud.
By night’s end, Markkanen posted his third double-double of the season, Dunn flirted with his first and LaVine scored 24 points in his 30-minute restriction in his second game back from a left ankle injury. More important, the Bulls played with more pace, cut with purpose and shared the ball crisply.
“We’re trying to figure out our spots and when to attack and be aggressive,” LaVine said. “There’s one ball out there. We’re all very talented scorers. You’re going to have to sacrifice things here and there. But we’re learn- ing howtowin.”
Add Wendell Carter Jr.’s first double-double since Dec. 4andit was a night of progress for a team not in position to judge victories. So the Bulls don’t care that John Wall, OttoPorter Jr. andMarkieff Morris all sat with injuries for theWizards.
Markkanen finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Dunn added 13 points and eight assists. And Carter posted 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks as all five starters, plus reserve Robin Lopez, scored in double figures.
“There definitely was a lot more room. Just the fact they’re all great offensive players, not a lot of peoplewere able to help off them,” Carter said of playing off LaVine, Dunn and Markkanen. “I’m taking open shots. I’m not hesitating. That’s when I miss most of the time is when I hesitate. They found me in my good spots, hit me in the pocket and drop-offs a lot. I just found ways to finish.”
So did the Bulls, who rode Lopez — yes, Lopez — for a stretch in the fourth quarter. He scored six of his 10 points in a 3- minute stretch and has reached double figures in three of his last four games.
“RoLo can score pretty much on any big. He’s a down-low presence,” LaVine said. “Coach calls him a meat grinder. He’s got the ol’ ’80s terminology.”
The slow-it-down style that produced Lopez’s jump hooks contrasted to the start of the second half. On the first possession, Boylen put Dunn in the corner and gave LaVine the ball up top. It didn’t lead to a basket becauseLaVine got tiedup on his drive and the Bulls lost the ensuing jump ball. But it got LaVine going.
“We come in at halftime and Zach has three shots,” Boylen said. “He didn’t panic. He wasn’t flustered. And the game turned for him. It’s hard to stop three guys.”
LaVine scored 11 points in 7:37 after that play call to open the second half.
“It got me going,” LaVine said. “I was feeling the game out. I knowI can turn it on. Thesecond half, I got more aggressive.”
LaVine and Dunn each took 12 shots. Markkanen attempted 15. Players and coaches always say the game tells you when to shoot. These numbers will fluctuate.
“At any time, we can all get hot and be the No. 1 option,” LaVine said. “You have to understand that as a player. It’s basketball. You have to recognize the hot man and keep riding it. We’re going to learn to play with each other.”
For one night, it looked pretty good.
“I’m excited,” Carter said. “Zach is still dealing with his ankle. ‘KD’ (Dunn) is still having kneeproblems. EvenBobby(Portis) when he gets back and the energy he brings. Once everybody gets completely healthy, I think we’re going to be a very, very good young team.”