Bulls can't hold early lead, lose to Portland

The Bulls headed into Portland late Wednesday night with a chance to clinch a winning record on their five-game West Coast trip.

This one looked like it might be easy, but then it wasn't. The Bulls led by 20 points early in the third quarter, but Portland's guards caught fire late and rallied to win 112-107.

Zach LaVine scored 30 points and DeMar DeRozan added 22 but had a rare off shooting night. Lonzo Ball added 17 points, while Alex Caruso nearly had a triple-double, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists.

The Blazers took their first lead of the second half at 94-92 when C.J. McCollum hit a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound with seven minutes left. A 3-pointer from Damian Lillard put Portland ahead by 4 with 4:14 remaining.

Lillard didn't score his first point until finishing a layup at the 5:13 mark of the second quarter. McCollum didn't get on the board until the third quarter.

After the Blazers went up by 6, the Bulls came back with two hustle layups by Ball beating the defense down the floor, then a 3-pointer by LaVine.

LaVine hit a driving layup after an offensive rebound by Caruso to give the Bulls a 107-106 advantage with 1:20. Lillard answered with a pair of free throws to put Portland ahead for good.

Down by 1 with under 30 seconds left, DeRozan slipped, got back up and missed a jumper as the Bulls' bench wanted a foul call. But Portland center Jusuf Nurkic grabbed the rebound and the Bulls had to foul. After 2 free throws, they trailed by 3 with 12 seconds on the clock.

Following a timeout, LaVine got a wide-open look at a tying 3 but left it short off the front rim, and Nassir Little put the game away with 2 more free throws.

Before the game, Bulls coach Billy Donovan talked about how they've have discovered some new traits about the team while center Nikola Vucevic is sidelined by a positive COVID test.

What they've found is backup center Tony Bradley can play acceptable minutes. He actually led the Bulls in net rating heading into Wednesday's action. They're also very good at running a small lineup, whether the starters or subs are on the floor.

"I think sometimes when players are out you learn a little bit more about your team and you find out some things that are positive that you weren't able to discover with the team being whole," Donovan said.

"I think we've been able to play a little bit of a faster small lineup with Javonte (Green) and Derrick (Jones Jr.) out there. We hadn't gotten much of a chance to see that when Vuc was healthy. I think the ability to switch one through five has given us a different dimension as well."

Another pleasant surprise is how successful the Bulls have been on defense, with Ball and Caruso as catalysts.

"I think it's a group that's competitive," Donovan said. "I think it's a group that knows they have to rely on each other. We've got to defend in a little bit different ways because of our lack of size. We've got to be disruptive. We've got to be really active."

Green was considered a game-time decision after suffering an ankle injury in Monday's win over the Lakers, but he did take his usual spot in the rotation.

Coby White made his second appearance of the season after recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He didn't score in either game, going 0-for-2 from the field, both 3-point misses, against the Blazers.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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