10 observations: DeRozan leads Bulls past Wizards


The Chicago Bulls needed a win in the worst way Tuesday night, when they visited the Washington Wizards.

And although it was close until the stretch run, the Bulls got just that, sprinting to victory behind a prolific fourth quarter by DeMar DeRozan. A good way to end a rocky road trip.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Billy Donovan has repeated it ad nauseam during his pre and postgame media sessions: The Bulls need to get Nikola Vučević involved to operate at maximum offensive efficiency. 

How does 15 points and 11 field-goal attempts in 10 first-quarter minutes sound in that regard?

It wasn’t just that Vučević scored well early, it was that the Bulls were intentionally locating him, particularly on the interior. Twelve of Vučević’s first-quarter points came in the paint, where Washington had no answer, from Kristaps Porziņģis to Daniel Gafford.

“We talked about it a little at the breakfast meeting this morning, just to get him going early,” Donovan said. “He really carried us in the first half offensively because we struggled to shoot the ball.”

“Once he gets going, it makes everybody else’s job easier,” DeRozan said.

Unlike in some recent games, the focus on feeding the big man didn’t wane as the game endured. Vučević entered the halftime locker room with a game-high 20 points, then tacked on another seven in the third quarter — and although he didn’t score in the fourth, he handed out two key assists in the final five minutes as the team ran offense through him in the middle of the floor.

Vučević’s 27 points (on efficient 12-for-19 shooting) are the most he’s scored in a game since dropping 31 against Oklahoma City on Feb. 12. It came at an opportune time.

2. Why? Well, for one, the Bulls badly needed a win.

And two, in an inverse dynamic from Monday’s loss to the Knicks, DeRozan and Zach LaVine initially lagged behind in the scoring department. DeRozan shot 2-for-12 from the field in the first half, while LaVine went scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting — other than the Jan. 14 game against the Warriors he left due to injury, his first half without a point since December 2019.

3. That also made the more pronounced contributions of the bench all the more impactful. Coby White got off to a hot shooting start, scoring seven of his eventual nine points in the first half. Javonte Green threw down a slew of highlight-reel dunks. Patrick Williams and Tristan Thompson each had strong drives and finishes.

In all, the Bulls’ reserves tallied 28 points, but 20 of those came before halftime, at which point the team led 51-46. That more than doubles the 11 bench points they mustered all game in New York.

4. Similar to the Knicks game, though, the second half began with an opponent run. The Wizards scored seven unanswered points in the first 1:39 of the third quarter, prompting a Donovan timeout, and eventually opened the period 10-2 to seize a 56-53 lead. 

The two sides traded blows from there, with the Bulls eventually entering the fourth ahead 75-73.

5. But that third quarter is when DeRozan found his footing, scoring a team-high nine points. Then, he truly ignited in the fourth, submitting 14 of his eventual 32 points to push the Bulls to a 32-21 advantage in the final frame — and a 13-point victory.

Those points came mostly in familiar fashion, with eight coming by way of pull-up midrange jumpers. DeRozan also deflected a pass and hauled in a hit-ahead pass from White for a fastbreak dunk that first made it a double-digit game. 

“I feel a switch when the fourth quarter starts,” DeRozan said. “It’s like a different game for me. I try to approach it, mentally, where you know everything will pick up. And I do the opposite. I try to slow down.”

In all, he shot 10-for-15 from the field in the second half (6-for-7 in the fourth) after his sluggish start, a remarkable in-game turnaround that propelled his team to a win.

6. The Bulls’ perimeter defense was far from perfect. The Wizards’ wings — from Rui Hachimura to Kentavious Caldwell Pope — and guards — Ish Smith — enjoyed clean driving lanes for much of the night, and despite an off-shooting night from 3-point range (6-for-26), Washington went 60.4 percent inside the arc to stay in the game until the stretch run.

But the Bulls were opportunistic, forcing 14 Wizards turnovers and scoring 21 points off of them — a staple of this team’s two-way attack when humming. Nine of those 14 turnovers came by way of the steal. Alex Caruso led the way in that department with three. DeRozan and Green each nabbed two.

7. Donovan was also more pleased with his team’s ball movement, which has been a point of emphasis as they attempt to snap out of their post-All-Star offensive funk. Their 26 assists against the Wizards is the most they’ve tallied since slinging 28 in a home win over the Raptors on March 21. That helped them offset 6-for-18 3-point shooting to convert 50.6 percent of their field goal attempts, overall.

8. Entering Tuesday, Williams’ minutes had declined game over game in his five appearances since returning from wrist rehab — and in the last two, his rotation changed to feature zero first-quarter ticks. 

Donovan has repeatedly touted patience with Williams as the 20-year-old finds his timing following a five-month absence, but he also offered a blueprint for Williams to up his minutes.

“For the minutes that he does get, we need all-out Patrick,” Donovan said before the game. “Whether it's 12 minutes or 25 minutes, you know? A lot of it has gotta be, what's he doing with the minutes he’s getting… There is, with young players, a very, very fine line between just giving a guy something (minutes) without him earning it.”

Williams didn't finish this one with a gaudy stat line — six points, seven rebounds, one steal and a +8 plus-minus — but clearly the message of him needing to play with more “force,” in Donovan’s words, was received. He crashed the offensive glass for three possession-extending boards, provided timely and targeted help defense throughout, and had this strong through-contact finish driving a scrambling Wizards defense as they attempted to recover from doubling DeRozan:

In turn, Williams logged 25 minutes, his most since returning, and was part of the team’s closing lineup.

9. The Bulls finish the five-game road trip 2-3, with wins over the Cavaliers and Wizards, and losses to the Bucks, Pelicans and Wizards. They are 18-22 on the road for the season, but now enter a five-game homestand before closing the regular season in Minnesota on April 10.

10. A loss to the Wizards would have dropped the Bulls into sixth place in the Eastern Conference behind the Raptors. Instead, they exit the nation’s capital a half-game up on Toronto, and 1.5 ahead of the Cavaliers, who inhabit the seventh spot — and top seed in the play-in tournament.

Next up: Home for the Clippers, who just returned Paul George from an extended injury absence, on Thursday.

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