CHICAGO (670 The Score) – What started out as an ugly sight to behold turned into a beautiful scene in the eyes of Bulls coach Billy Donovan on Monday evening.
After the Bulls (six) and the Rockets (nine) combined for 15 turnovers in a brutal first quarter, Chicago found its rhythm and Donovan watched as seven of his players scored in double figures, led by guard Zach LaVine’s game-high 33 points. It was the type of performance Donovan envisioned when he took over the Bulls, and it came on a timely evening in which his team was missing four rotation players.
“I envisioned trying to play like that,” Donovan said. “I’ve always felt like if you can get five to seven guys every night in double figures, I think it keeps everybody engaged. The ball finds the open man. I think guys shoot the more a lot more confidently.”
The Bulls sure shot confidently Monday. They were 20-of-45 (44.4%) on 3-pointers as five players made at least a trio of 3-pointers. It was only the second time in franchise history five players had hit at three 3-pointers in a game, according to Bulls Radio stats guru Jeff Mangurten. Behind LaVine, Lauri Markkanen had 18 points and Denzel Valentine and Garrett Temple added 13 points apiece.
The Bulls have now scored 115 points or more in six straight games, their second-longest streak in franchise history, per Mangurten. Part of the high-scoring offense is because Chicago entered Monday playing at the second-fastest pace in the NBA. And a bigger reason why is because the Bulls are also shooting the lights out lately.
Entering Monday, Chicago was shooting 38.0% from long range, tied for the seventh-best mark in the NBA. The Bulls’ field-goal percentage was 47.9%, the sixth-best mark in the league. They get to the free-throw line more often than all but five opponents in the NBA, and they convert them at a strong rate once they’re there.
All that’s holding the Bulls back from being a top-six or top-seven offense in the NBA is their penchant for turnovers. Their 17.1 turnovers per 100 possessions entering Monday are the second-most in the league, and they had 19 more against the Rockets.
“There’s a lot of room for us to grow,” Donovan said. “I think we turn the ball over at a really, really high rate. I don’t think you’re ever going to be as good as you can potentially be when you turn the ball over like we do.
“We’re averaging a little over 18 turnovers a game. We got to be a team that’s going to be between 12 and 14. That’s really the goal. Whether or not we can get there, I don’t know.”
What Donovan also liked was LaVine’s decision-making late in the game. At times, LaVine has been criticized for playing hero ball to poor returns late in games, but he was stellar Monday. In the final 5:04, LaVine had four points on 2-of-3 shooting and added three assists – including a dish to Markkanen for the game-clinching 3-pointer with 46.9 seconds left after LaVine had drawn attention. LaVine had seven assists in all.
“Clearly, Zach for us is just an elite, elite scorer,” Donovan said. “You have to go to him, but I think if the way to that is on him every single time down the floor, I think it takes players out of rhythm, I think it’s hard to play and make shots when the ball does find you. So I think if we’re moving the ball and hitting the open man … We just got to play that way. And we need to be balanced. If teams are going to double-team Zach, others guys are going to be open.
“We just got to make the next best basketball play.”
The Bulls improved to 6-8 with the victory and have won two straight since a collapsing in the second half of a loss to the Thunder last Friday.
“Guys are stepping up and playing roles,” LaVine said. “I think we’re starting to get accustomed to the offense a little bit. I think over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing a really good job with it.
“We got a lot of firepower. I think we’re all starting to learn the ball a little bit. I think I’ve done a really good job this year picking my spots and understanding when to shoot and when to pass. I think other guys are starting to do that as well.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.