Bulls’ young core tak­ing baby steps

LaVine, Markka­nen, Dunn thrive in 2nd half of 1st start to­gether

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By K.C. John­son kcjohn­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @kcjhoop

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.”

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