Why don't Bulls Markkanen-LaVine mesh on court?

The combination of Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen should work well for the Bulls. They are two young players who can score inside and out.

But it hasn't worked. Statistically, LaVine and Markkanen are the worst two-man combination the Bulls use regularly, by a wide margin.

Why doesn't it work? How can it be fixed? The fate of the Bulls' rebuild may depend on answering these questions.

"Drive, kick - it seems like a match made in heaven," LaVine said Friday at the Advocate Center. "We just got to be able to be consistent together and both be dominant on the court at the same time."

LaVine is well aware of the situation. He insisted that he and Markkanen are good friends, and the pairing seems to work well in practice.

"If I had the answer, I'd be able to tell you," LaVine said. "I wish it was running as smoothly as it seems (it should) or even in practice how it looks sometimes. But it just doesn't come along sometimes that fast, I guess. It's tough, but we're still working on it every day.

"We know we can be a dynamic duo, with our shooting, our athletic ability to get to the hoop. We just have to put it into the game. I'd like it to be better. I wish it was crisp, too."

This probably falls in the same category as everything else regarding the Bulls' improvement. They have a bunch of young players who have never played for a winning NBA team. Learning the finer points of winning basketball isn't automatic.

LaVine is off to a bit of a slow start. His 20.4 points per game, 4.0 assists and .441 field-goal percentage are below what he posted last season.

Markkanen started off with 35 points and 17 rebounds in the season-opener against Charlotte. Since then, he's averaged 12.6 points and 6.4 boards.

Coach Jim Boylen didn't have much to say about the LaVine-Markkanen chemistry. But he does feel the Bulls are headed in a good direction after a blowout win over Atlanta and three quarters of playing well against the Lakers a night earlier.

"We're going to keep working at what we believe in, sharing it, caring for each other and playing hard," Boylen said. "It's always on the head coaches' mind how to get guys involved. But there's a responsibility from the player too. That's just our game.

"I thought Zach was tremendous the other night. He let it come to him. He had 7 assists, five deflections and 2 steals. And we won. I've been asking him to be a complete player. And to me he's working toward that. He's working hard."

The Bulls will have an interesting test Saturday, when the Houston Rockets visit the United Center with the MVP pairing of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Harden leads the league in scoring at 36.5 points per game.

The Rockets lead the league in 3-point attempts, taking 47.8 per game. The Bulls are trying to run a similar offense and rank 10th in 3-point attempts with 35 per game. Their 3-point percentage of .333, though, ranks 22nd, although the Rockets are worse at .330.

"I feel like I've done a good job of taking less middies (midrange shots)," LaVine said. "I still shoot the ones that are open, but like I said it's the style play that we want and we're going to work it."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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Bulls game day

Bulls vs. Houston Rockets, 7 p.m. Saturday at the United Center

TV: NBCSCH • Radio: WSCR 670-AM

Outlook: SG James Harden leads the NBA in scoring with 36.5 points per game, but he's shooting just 27 percent from 3-point range and the Rockets (5-3) are giving up the second-most points in the league (121.8). Newcomer Russell Westbrook is a little off his triple-double pace, averaging 20.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 8.7 assists. C Clint Capela (13.5 ppg) and SF Danuel House (13.1 ppg) are next on the scoring list. ... Houston has won two in a row, beating Memphis and Golden State. ... The Bulls have lost six in a row in the series and three straight at home.

Next: New York Knicks, 7 p.m. Tuesday at the United Center

- Mike McGraw

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