Bulls share the rock, run win streak to three
This was a good night to notice the differences in this year's Bulls.
First of all, they went 1-3 against Charlotte last season, and the lone win required a miracle fourth-quarter comeback. The Hornets were at full strength Friday and got 34 points from newcomer Gordon Hayward.
But there's a big change in the Bulls' leadership, and it was obvious from looking at the box score. Their leaders in plus-minus were Thad Young at plus-19, Garrett Temple at plus-15 and Otto Porter at plus-15. The veteran reserves built a lead in the second quarter and the Bulls held onto it, winning 123-110.
There's also a difference in commitment to sharing the ball. The Bulls piled up 33 assists against the Hornets, led by Zach LaVine with 9 and Coby White with 8. Thanks to the stellar ball movement, they were able to shoot 51.6% from the field because of all the open looks.
This is what winning basketball looks like, and Friday marked their third consecutive victory. The ultimate challenge awaits Saturday when the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers visit the United Center.
"I think our confidence is at an all-time high just because we're preparing the right way," LaVine said after the game. "We're taking it game-by-game and being prepared. But if you don't have the confidence that you're an extremely good team that can go in and win every game, then you already lost."
LaVine didn't slack off on his scoring, netting an efficient 25 points. Lauri Markkanen added 23 points and White had 18. The Bulls (7-8) never trailed in the second half after building a 61-53 edge at intermission.
"I'm just trying to read the right play out there," LaVine said. "If that's scoring, assisting, defending -- whatever it calls for, I'm not going out there and letting it just happen. I feel like I'm thinking about the game a lot more this year. Even when I'm on the bench, I'm trying to keep everybody on the same page.
"Obviously, the vets on our team are helping me with that, coach is helping me with that so I'm extremely happy with the progress I've been doing with it."
Daniel Gafford started at center in place of Wendell Carter Jr. (thigh bruise) and held his own, finishing with 7 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Tomas Satoransky, back from a bout with COVID-19, saw his first game action since Dec. 29 and looked a little rusty. He produced 2 points and 4 assists in 11 minutes. Chandler Hutchison, another coronavirus victim, did not play Friday.
First-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan was asked if he set out to build a culture of sharing the ball when he took over this team.
"Zach is obviously an elite and an incredible scorer," Donovan said. "But I think I've said you just can't rely on him every single night trying to carry the team home. And he's had an incredible year and has played unbelievable.
"But I think we'll be a better team if we can get five, six, seven guys on a nightly basis in double figure and we can share the ball and generate good looks for each other. I think for the most part, they've gotten better and better at that."
Donovan will get a lot of the credit if the Bulls continue to play well and deservedly so, but he knows the only way to win in the NBA is to have experienced players on the floor and the Bulls finally have that. Porter was injured most of last season, Temple is a new arrival who has played very well and Young is playing all the crunchtime minutes this season. Those three veterans all played the majority of Friday's fourth quarter, as did Denzel Valentine.
"We all believe that we have a really, really good team," White said. "We're getting better each and every game. That's all you can ask for. I think we're right there. We're starting to make that leap."