Despite some incredibly sloppy play, there was strong evidence someone was trying to win Wednesday's game between the Chicago Bulls and the Memphis Grizzlies, two of the NBA's lower-tier teams.
For starters, Memphis rookie Dillon Brooks poured in 20 fourth-quarter points to almost single-handedly trim a 21-point Bulls lead down to 1.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg sent four of his five starters on the floor and they were able to salvage a 119-110 victory at the United Center. The NBA's competition committee, if there was such a thing to make sure teams are trying, can put this game in the vault with no need for further investigation.
"We haven't had a lead like that in a long time," Hoiberg said. "But you've got to extend it. You've got to keep playing. You've got to keep your pace. You've got to keep doing the things that made you successful."
Memphis has gotten so good at tanking, this was its 15th consecutive loss. The Grizzlies (18-46) are pulling ahead in the race for the NBA's worst record.
The Bulls, meanwhile, reached 22 wins, 2 more than any other team in the NBA's bottom eight, although Orlando and Sacramento played late games Wednesday.
Brooks, a college teammate of Jordan Bell at Oregon, finished with 29 points and twice brought the Grizzlies within 1. Bell is the player chosen by Golden State after the Bulls sold last year's second-round pick to the Warriors.
The Bulls countered with a bit of a rebuilding milestone -- Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn all scored above 20 points for the first time. Markkanen led with 22, while Dunn and LaVine scored 21 each.
Justin Holiday returned to the lineup after the NBA nixed the Bulls' plan to rest their veterans. Holiday went 4-for-4 from 3-point range and scored 14 points in 18 minutes.
Denzel Valentine went 0-for-8 from the field with his college coach, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, watching from the stands. With a long layoff before the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans decided to visit Chicago.
Whether it meant a higher draft pick or not, this would have been an embarrassing game for the Bulls to lose, considering Memphis' losing streak and the Bulls' 21-point advantage.
"In the NBA, you can't relax," Dunn said. "Teams can come back within a blink of the eye. When you've got that thing rolling, the basket looked like an ocean to him (Brooks). To our credit, we knuckled down and got the stops when we needed it."
Some of the Bulls saw this victory as a sign of growth.
"We always kind of take our foot off the pedal a little bit, it's something we've been struggling with all year," said Bobby Portis, who added 15 points and 10 rebounds. "We get up, get comfortable thinking the game is over."
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