10 observations: Bulls scorch Luka-less Mavericks


The Chicago Bulls had every reason to rout the Dallas Mavericks, which were without Luka Dončić and on the second leg of a brutal back-to-back, at the United Center Saturday night.

And in refreshing fashion — by operating with pace, urgency, and by not playing with their food — they did just that, notching a 144-115 win that represented their best offensive performance in quite some time.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Although Javonte Green missed his third straight game with a knee bruise, the Bulls came into this one with a few schedule-related advantages. Not only did the Mavericks get into Chicago just before 4 a.m. after a 9 p.m. CT tipoff Friday night in Dallas, they also were without Dončić, Josh Green and Maxi Kleber.

Obviously Dončić, an MVP candidate, is the headliner there, but Green (a 44 percent 3-point shooter and burgeoning wing defender) and Kleber (a defensively versatile big man with a solid outside stroke) are key rotation cogs as well.

2. Still, this Bulls team has shown an ability to lose to any opponent on a night-to-night basis, so it was encouraging to see them start the game exactly as you would want against a tired, shorthanded opponent.

The Bulls shot a scalding 7-for-12 from 3-point range in the first quarter — getting two triples apiece from Nikola Vučević, Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr. — en route to 40 points in the period, then their highest-scoring quarter of the season. And, at least to start, they were also incredibly active defensively, forcing four Mavericks turnovers, scoring seven fastbreak points and effectively closing out to 3-point shooters.

3. Unfortunately, that defensive success lasted all of six minutes. After jumping ahead by as many as 18 points (24-6) in the first half of the first quarter, Dallas closed the frame on a 24-16 run, at one juncture drawing as close as a five-point deficit. The leader of that surge was (former Windy City Bull!) Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored 15 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts in the quarter.

4. But fortunately, that ship was soon righted. Behind a flurry of midrange jumpers, pump-fakes and free throws by DeMar DeRozan (he scored 15 points on four field goal attempts, going 9-for-9 from the foul line, between the 1:20 mark of the first quarter and 8:56 mark of the second) and dunks by Andre Drummond, the Bulls stretched their lead as high as 30 in the second quarter and did not look back.

After setting their season-high for points in a quarter with 40 in the first, they immediately topped it with 42 in the second, entering the halftime locker room shooting 65.9 percent (10-for-17 from 3-point range) and with 21 assists on 29 made field goals. Their 82 points through two quarters was not only their highest-scoring half of the season, but also the Bulls' highest-scoring first half in franchise history.

5. After each came up clutch in their own way during Wednesday's win over the Wizards, this was another banner night for the Bulls' "Big Three." Between 28 points on 9-for-13 shooting for DeRozan, 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting (2-for-3 from 3-point range) from Vučević and 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting (2-for-5 from 3-point range) from Zach LaVine, the trio combined for 64 points on ludicrously efficient 24-for-35 (68.6 percent) shooting.

Don't look now, but that also continues an underratedly solid stretch by LaVine. In five games since snapping a six-game streak of games under 41 percent shooting from the field, he is averaging 24.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, two steals and shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from 3-point range. That span features an elite finishing night against the Kings (10-for-10 in the restricted area), scorching hot 3-point shooting performance against the Wizards and a high level of defensive activity throughout — all signs he may be finding his footing after a slow start to the season, which followed knee surgery that disrupted his summer.

6. But the love was spread down the rest of the depth chart as well. In all, seven Bulls players finished the game in double-figures. And the team set season-highs in points (144), field goals made (54), field goal percentage (63.5 percent), 3-pointers made (19), 3-point percentage (55.9 percent) and margin of victory.

It was not only the team's best offensive outing of the campaign, but their best performance, overall.

7. For all the — justified — consternation about Williams' offensive passivity, he has quietly been a more-than-solid spot up threat this season. He entered play shooting 42.9 percent from 3-point range on low-ish, but still career-high, volume of 2.9 attempts per game (5.3 per 100 possessions). After going 4-for-5 from distance in this one, those marks will increase.

8. These types of games are typically fertile ground for busting out of slumps, and that is exactly what Drummond did in 18 minutes off the bench. He had seen his minutes totals in the single digits in each of his past three games, and his production decline with it, shooting 3-for-9 total across those contests and committing five fouls in eight minutes of even Wednesday's win. But in this one he thrilled the United Center crowd with a series of rim-rattling jams in the second quarter en route to nine points (4-for-5 shooting) and seven boards for the game.

In fact, a Bulls' second unit which has sagged of late after a great start to the campaign enjoyed a collective bounceback. Embedded in their 63 total bench points were big games from Ayo Dosunmu (17 points, 3-for-5 from 3-point range), Goran Dragić (14 points, four assists) and Jones Jr. (16 points, 4-for-5 from 3-point range).

9. Better yet, Billy Donovan got a chance to rest his high-minute players down the stretch with the game out of hand from the second quarter on. Although DeRozan eclipsed the 30-minute mark, LaVine (27) and Vučević (26) sat in the mid-20s. That conserved energy could come in handy on the second leg of the grueling back-to-back the Bulls are embarking on Sunday, with a 5:30 p.m. CT tipoff time in Atlanta due up.

Plus, fans in attendance had the pleasure of watching deep reserve center Tony Bradley drill a 3-pointer and rookie wing Dalen Terry receive some run (he contributed a driving layup in four minutes).

10. The one damper on a largely positive night was Alex Caruso leaving the contest with a low back contusion after six first-quarter minutes and not returning. Caruso has appeared in all 25 of the Bulls' games this season (despite tweaking his ankle during the team's recent West Coast swing) and had recently moved into the starting lineup, so this is something to monitor closely moving forward.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Hawks Sunday evening.

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