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10 observations: Bulls beat Hornets as Zach LaVine, Nikola Vučević return

Coby White stays aggressive offensively as two-game skid ends

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls snapped a two-game skid with their 104-91 victory over the Charlotte Hornets Friday night at the United Center.

Here are 10 observations:

---Zach LaVine returned after a 17-game absence. So did Nikola Vucevic after missing five games. Both came off the bench because they’re dealing with minutes restrictions. LaVine’s was 25-30 minutes and he played 30. Vucevic’s was 23-25 minutes and he played 25.

---LaVine, in particular, looked to almost be overcompensating early with his desire to fit in, passing up multiple shots to pass to open teammates. He had a strong close to the first half, sprinting out in transition for a dunk on a feed from Coby White and burying a corner 3-pointer.

During his third-quarter stint, he had quick and correct ball reversal to White for a 3-pointer and converted a nifty behind-the-back pass from Dalen Terry for a layup. And he then scored in transition on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions. LaVine finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists on 6-for-11 shooting.

---LaVine didn’t play up to his standards before his foot injury, shooting below his career percentages and regressing in his decision-making. The Bulls played better offensively in December during his absence, but coach Billy Donovan believes LaVine, at his optimal, will fit in fine with the new-look offense the Bulls implemented in training camp.

“It wasn’t like Zach went out and we had to revamp our offense. We never did that,” Donovan said. “But we are taking more 3s. We are getting downhill more. We are offensive rebounding more. Stylistically in terms of attacking the paint, we’ve tried to grow that out as the year has gone on.

“He sees what these guys have done and how they’ve played. His mindset is he wants to enhance it and make it better and contribute. And I think the skill set that he has, he should fit in fine to that.

“My biggest thing for him has been the quick decisions. Shoot it when he’s open. Attack closeouts when he gets an opportunity to drive it. And get off it. It’s not like it’s that complicated for him. But when you’re dealing with guys who are elite scorers, there’s a rhythm that guys find. Because he certainly has shown the ability throughout his career that he can go on tears. And you certainly don’t want to take that away from a player. But I’ve always said this: Whether Zach is driving the ball and finishing or potentially getting fouled or shooting the ball when he’s open, that’s always been good for our offense. It’s not even about his shot selection. It’s about him being quick and decisive with his decisions.”

---Vučević finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists. The Bulls missed his connecting passing and ability to run offense through him. He entered shooting just 28 percent from 3-point range, though, and missed four of five. But he threw down a monster dunk late that jazzed the United Center crowd.

---The Bulls shot 53.1 percent with 29 assists and 25 fast-break points. There was a lot to like offensively.

---Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams, both listed as probable, sat as late scratches. That meant, with LaVine and Vucevic serving as reserves, Dalen Terry made his first NBA start alongside Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, DeMar DeRozan and Andre Drummond. Terry badly missed his first two open 3-point attempts but buried the next two. He will need to develop his outside shot to become a consistent NBA player. He did finish with four assists and continues to display an innate playmaking ability.

----White committed two early turnovers and didn’t record his first assist until the 1 minute, 22 second mark of the second quarter. More than any other player, attention will be focused on whether his offensive growth will be curtailed by LaVine’s return.

“Certainly the ball is in his hands quite a bit. He needs to continue to be aggressive,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I wouldn’t want him to change the way he’s playing or feel like he has to.”

White stayed aggressive by finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists but also committed five turnovers. He was the star of the game.

---The Bulls blew the game open with a 22-6 run to open the fourth sparked largely by White, DeMar DeRozan and Ayo Dosunmu. DeRozan finished with 17 points and six assists on just 10 shots.

---The eight-win Hornets played without LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward, among other prominent players. So the competition wasn’t exactly elite. Miles Bridges led them with 28 points.

---Donovan said he doesn’t know how long the medical staff will keep the restrictions in place for LaVine and Vucevic but that both players’ bench roles will change once those restrictions are lifted. Donovan did allude to LaVine’s 17- game absence as opposed to Vucevic’s five-game absence, so it’s conceivable that LaVine’s bench role lasts longer.

“Zach has missed significant time and we want to do a good job and I’ve gotta help medical manage that situation,” Donovan said. “We’re all on the same page with open lines of discussions---medical, the players, myself. And both those guys have been great doing whatever they can to do to help the team.

“Do I see them coming off the bench continuing for the rest of the year? No.”

Part of the logic behind bringing them off the bench is to allow them to be in closing lineups if necessary without having sat for a long time beforehand.

“Now these guys can maybe find a better rhythm. Because I’m thinking about them too in terms of we’re in this minute restriction to take care of their health but how do you help them too where they’re not having these prolonged sits for potentially 8, 10, 12 minutes,” Donovan said. “It’s an opportunity to shorten the game some for them.”

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