Did that really just happen? What?
The Denver Nuggets are the best team in the West. They have the best home record in the league. They have the second best offensive rating in the league.
And of course, the Bulls come to town and wipe the floor with them 117-96.
After an ugly four-game stretch including losses to the Pacers, Suns, Raptors and a 20-point lead against the Pistons erased in a matter of minutes, this one had to feel good for the Bulls. The team played one of its best games of the season, and continue to keep hope alive for a play-in berth.
In honor of Rob Schaefer joining us in studio for our pre- and-post game shows, here are 10 observations from Wednesday’s miraculous win.
1. Four factors
Four factors — effective field goal, turnover percentage, offensive rebounding percentage and free throw attempt rate — are generally good indicators of what it takes to win a basketball game. The Bulls strategy, given their lack of three-point shooting and decision to get back on defense rather than attack the offensive glass, need to win the shooting efficiency, turnover and free throw attempt battle.
They did with flying colors.
The Bulls have a thin margin for error, and they need to execute these areas to a T to be a competitive team.
2. Third Quarter Magic
Beating the Nuggets 36-24 in the third quarter, the Bulls found some separation and never looked back. LaVine scored nine in the frame and eight Bulls players added to the scoresheet.
It probably helped that the Bulls made four of their five three-pointers while the Nuggets hit only three of their 10. But the Bulls were 14-of-22 from the field overall, got out in transition, defended the three-point line well and got some luck in the form of the Nuggets missing 6-of-9 free throws.
Still, we’ll take it. The Bulls third quarter net rating is +1.8 and they needed to build up a solid lead to take into the fourth quarter, where they have struggled all year.
3. Zach at the rim
Zach LaVine’s nuclear scoring streak does not stop. 29 points, 12-of-18 shooting and a ridiculous 9-of-9 at the rim. Absolutely dominant stuff.
LaVine has been insanely efficient with more field goal attempts than DeMar DeRozan in the last five games. He’s helping address the Bulls lack of rim pressure with more of the offense run through him lately and it’s forcing the two to learn different ways to coexist.
4. Aggro Patrick Williams
Patrick Williams had himself a night. Finishing with 18 points (8-of-9 shooting), Williams continued on his aggressive streak playing off the bench.
Williams got a dunk on his first touch of the game and never looked back. He was decisive attacking the basket, continuing to trim the fat on his drives and putting his body into smaller defenders to get all the way to the rim.
Williams was as good as he has been all year.
The best Nikola on the floor tonight, Vucevic netted his 40th double-double of the season by scoring 25 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Per Bulls PR, he becomes the fourth Bull to notch 40 double doubles in a season. This was also his 10th 25-15 game, the second most of any Bull after Artis Gilmore.
6. Nikola Jokic shoots 43 percent
For just the second time this year, and the first since October 28th, Nikola Jokic shot less than 50 percent from the field.
Finishing with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists, Jokic shot just 7-of-16 from the field, 3-of-9 from three and 1-of-4 from the line.
7. Fastbreak Battle
Remember when the Bulls used to get easy points in transition? Good times.
We saw a glimmer of that Lonzo Ball magic in a hit ahead pass from Alex Caruso that resulted in one of the best dunks we’ve seen this year from LaVine.
Bulls ended up winning the fast break battle 19-5, which went a long way toward compensating for losing the three-pointers battle 8-of-24 to 15-of-40.
8. Who are these Bulls
There is a narrative that the Bulls beat all of the good teams, and that simply isn’t true. They’re now 16-20 against above .500 teams and though they have had some incredible wins, like this one, it’s been some time since they took down a healthy elite team.
They beat the Warriors at home on 1/15/23, the 76ers without Embiid on 1/6/23, and the Kevin Durant + Kyrie Irving Nets on 1/4/23, but those games were almost two months ago.
In spite of that, the Bulls now have a +0.6 point differential, which equates to roughly 42 wins over the course of an 82-game season. The Bulls aren’t contenders but they shouldn’t be six games under 0.500 either. With the play in race tightening up and their remaining schedule among the hardest in the league, they need to string together some more games like this one.
9. Play in updates
In addition to the Bulls win, the Atlanta Hawks beat the Washington Wizards and the Toronto Raptors lost to the Clippers. That means the Bulls are now within a game of 10th and 1.5 games out of 9th.
10. Next up
Bulls have a few days off before their Saturday night game in Houston against the reeling Rockets.