LaVine scores 38 as Bulls cruise past Kings
The NBA is approaching the midseason break, which will be unique this year because the second half schedule has yet to be announced.
And on Saturday, the Bulls did their part by completing their best week of the season. They cruised past short-handed Sacramento 122-114 at the United Center, getting some payback for a road loss in January.
The Bulls went 3-1 this week, with an overtime win at Indiana, a big 25-point comeback against Detroit and a competitive loss at Philadelphia, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
So the Bulls are now 13-16, and a half-game out of eighth place in the East. Another change this year is teams only need to finish in 10th place to reach the play-in tournament for the final playoff spot.
After shooting poorly against the 76ers on Friday, Zach LaVine set out to rebuild his field-goal percentage against Sacramento. He hit 15 of 20 shots from the field for 38 points, and his all-star reserve candidacy seems to be in as good a shape as it could be, without the Bulls being a Finals contender.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan talked about the work LaVine has put in to produce a career-best season.
"Zach LaVine is deserving of being an all-star," Donovan said. "Ever since I came here, everything he's wanted to do has been about winning. I do think he wants to win and I do think he wants to be told what things he has to do to take it to the next level. He's got to be a two-way player.
"He's got to lead by example by every day in practice putting forth a great effort, where he can hold himself to a high standard which enables him to hold his teammates to a high standard. For him to be doing what he's doing this year in terms of these numbers and career-bests, I think it's a great compliment to the commitment that he's made to himself and to his teammates."
The Kings (12-17), who lost their sixth straight game, were missing two starters because of injuries -- forward Harrison Barnes and center Richaun Holmes.
Coby White added 19 points for the Bulls, Thad Young had 18 and Garrett Temple 14. Wendell Carter's former Duke teammate Marvin Bagley led Sacramento with 26 points, Buddy Hield scored 23 and De'Aaron Fox had 20.
The Bulls might have thought this one was over when rookie Patrick Williams drained a 52-foot heave from beyond half-court at the third-quarter buzzer. The long-range launch put the Bulls ahead 95-83.
But the Kings opened the fourth with a 16-6 run and pulled within 101-99 on a Bagley hook shot with eight minutes left.
After a time out, the Bulls settled down and pulled away again with 3-pointers from Temple and White. Then LaVine did a nice job of closing the door, scoring 7 points in just over a minute to make it 116-106. He also guarded Fox down the stretch.
"We could not control (Kings guard Tyrese) Haliburton on the pick-and-roll and that's how they got back into the game," Donovan said. "I thought when Zach switched on -- he played a lot of different guys tonight -- he really, really took on the challenge of playing pick-and-roll defense."
Before the game, Donovan said there's no timetable yet for the possible returns of Lauri Markkanen or Otto Porter. Markkanen missed his eighth game with a right shoulder sprain, while Porter has missed 10 with back spasms.
"(Porter) has been doing some shooting now," Donovan said. "He's made some progress, he's feeling better. He's done nothing in practice, but he has gotten shots up. The hard part right now with him is every day that goes by is a day where he loses more conditioning."
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls