Bulls match level of competition and then some, roll past Denver

There aren't many sadder scenarios in the NBA than scoreboard-watching when you're a team struggling to reach the final play-in spot in the East.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan suggested keeping eyes on the wooden floor and backboards instead of what any other team is doing.

"I think if you get too focused on worrying about and hoping for something that's out of your control," Donovan told reporters before Wednesday's game at Denver. "I think you lose what you actually have control over."

The Bulls took care of business in surprising fashion in Denver, dominating the second half in a 117-96 victory. The Nuggets lead the Western Conference, own the NBA's best home record at 30-5 and the Bulls had lost 13 of their last 14 games in Denver.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 29 points, Nikola Vucevic added 25 points and 15 rebounds, Patrick Williams scored 18, his highest point total since Jan. 23; while DeMar DeRozan finished with 17 points and 8 assists.

LaVine turns 28 on Friday and his parents surprised him by sitting courtside at the game.

"For me, I think it starts with our offense," Donovan said after the game. "When we're moving the ball and making quick decisions and the ball is getting from one action to the next, I think that's when we're at our best and it kind of connects us. Then I think it connects us defensively as well."

The Bulls fell behind 57-51 early in the third quarter, then went on a 28-9 run. After going 2-for-14 from 3-point range in the opening half, the Bulls finally found the range, with Vucevic, Patrick Beverley, LaVine and Williams connecting during the surge.

Another missing ingredient was fast-break points. Even running through the high altitude of central Colorado, the Bulls produced 13 fast-break points through three quarters, which is more than any of their totals in the last seven full games.

During the first half, Vucevic held his own against Denver center Nikola Jokic, posting 13 points, 8 rebounds and 1 assist, compared to 9-6-5 for the two-time MVP.

Vucevic recorded his 40th double-double of the season, joining a select group of Bulls big men to post at least 40 double-doubles twice. Artis Gilmore, Pau Gasol and Charles Oakley are the others who did it.

"Again, our challenge in Houston (on Saturday) is can we do it again," Donovan said. "The consistency part is what we've got to be able to do.

"I'm really excited and happy with the way the guys played. I think they put a lot of work yesterday into practice. I think they worked hard in shootaround. I think they prepared really well and I think they understood how good this team is."

The four teams directly ahead of the Bulls (30-36) in the standings were in action Wednesday. Two of them played each other, with 8th-place Atlanta beating 10th-place Washington. Miami lost at home to Cleveland, while Toronto played at late game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

An interesting note featuring a couple of former Bulls: Jimmy Butler played home games with Miami on Monday and Wednesday, but made the effort to fly to Los Angeles on Tuesday to watch former Bulls teammate Gasol get his jersey retired by the Lakers. Gasol's No. 16 was placed next to the jersey of his close friend, the late Kobe Bryant.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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