LaVine, Bulls finish season's first half with big win at New Orleans

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

    Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Bledsoe (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Associated Press

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks against Chicago Bulls center Daniel Gafford during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 3, 2021.

    New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks against Chicago Bulls center Daniel Gafford during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/3/2021 10:23 PM

The Bulls just want to be a contender.

After beating New Orleans 128-124 on Wednesday, the Bulls closed out the first half of the season with a 16-18 record. So they are certainly in playoff contention, especially since they only have to finish in 10th place to make the new play-in games.

 

Their young guys showed more potential. Zach LaVine (36 points) and Coby White (25) have a chance to be one of the more higher-scoring backcourts in the NBA, and center Wendell Carter Jr. bounced back from a couple of rough games to grab 15 rebounds and an important putback basket late in the fourth quarter.

This was a nice finish to the first half, after tough losses to Phoenix and Denver. The Bulls will have a week off for the all-star break before hosting Philadelphia and Miami on Mar. 11 and 12.

"We've got some ups and downs but we've been in pretty much every game after the couple games," LaVine said. "We've got a lot to work on, but a lot to look forward to."

After the game, first-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan was asked what he would have thought if told at the start of the season the Bulls would be 16-18 at the unofficial halfway point.

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"We have a losing record right now," Donovan said. "I don't really look at it that way. I think this team has made incredible progress, in my opinion. These guys have been phenomenal. At the same point too, we have a long way to go. I'm trying to not have them be satisfied. We need to keep trying to pull more out of each other. They need to pull more out of me, I've got to pull more out of them. There's an opportunity to improve and get better.

"I don't know what I would have thought in that situation. It doesn't really make a difference because once we get out of the break, there's going to be a lot of games in a short period of time. We just need to keep getting better and focus on our improvements on a daily basis. You put everything you have in it, then you look at the end of the year, you see where you're at."

The Bulls showed up ready to play, jumping to an early 21-9 lead. That one slipped away pretty quickly, but they built their biggest advantage at 19 points by halftime.

In the fourth quarter, the Bulls were up by 15 points with six minutes remaining. The Pelicans chipped away and got it down to 2 with 3.4 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Brandon Ingram. But 2 free throws from White sealed the victory. New Orleans never had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

LaVine not only scored 36 points, he dished out 8 assists. Thad Young added 18 points, while rookie Patrick Williams finished with 13 points and 3 blocks. Zion Williamson led New Orleans with 28 points.

The Bulls played without Luke Kornet due to personal reasons. He had gotten minutes as the backup center in recent games, so Daniel Gafford got another chance and grabbed 5 rebounds in six minutes.

Earlier in the day, the NBA released rosters for a 2021 Rising Stars Challenge, even though the game won't be played this year during all-star weekend. Neither White nor Williams made the cut, with rosters determined by vote of the league's assistant coaches.

"It doesn't bother me," said Williams, who plans to visit Los Angeles and hit the beach during all-star break. "I play the game of basketball because I love it and want to win, ultimately. It really had no impact on me."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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