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Don't let Zach LaVine's 41-point game distract you from the Bulls' 9-14 record

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 5, 2022

The Chicago Bulls’ six-game road trip came to a 2-4 end with a 110-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.

And don’t let Zach LaVine’s 41-point game distract you — 9-14 teams are not good, and the Bulls are no exception. While there were some positives to take away from this game — Alex Caruso’s continued greatness on defense and LaVine looking like a star again — it’s hard to keep searching for signs of positivity.

The Bulls have lost 10 of their last 14 games and now sit five games under .500.

Not exactly where they’d want to be given their “we like our group” plan over the 2022 offseason.

The Bulls have a chance to turn things around with a relatively easier schedule in December. But for that to happen, they’ll need to clean up their team defense, and give LaVine some help.

Here are my takeaways.

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1. This was quintessential Alex Caruso

Not many players can finish the game with zero points and still have such a positive impact. four assists, three steals, two blocks. This was quintessential Caruso.

It’s one of those storylines that I could write about after every game. Caruso has a truly special nose for the ball.

His rotations are elite. He makes up for mistakes all around him. And it bears out in the numbers.

He averages 4.0 deflections per game, which is 2nd in the NBA. He’s 12th in the NBA in defensive EPM. The Bulls are +14.8 points per 100 possessions better with him in the lineup compared to when he sits.

Shoutout Caruso. He deserves it.

2. Zach LaVine looked like Zach LaVine

Finally.

LaVine finally started to look like himself, scoring 41 points (16-of-28 shooting) and carrying the entire Bulls offense while DeMar DeRozan (18 points on 6-of-18 shooting) and Nikola Vucevic (12 points, six rebounds on 4-of-10 shooting) continued to struggle.

The most encouraging part was, from the jump, the effort to get to the rim and finish while drawing contact. The first two scores of the game were strong takes at the basket that helped the Bulls off to a solid start.

LaVine is finishing at the rim at a 61 percent clip, down eight percent from last year and one of the works marks of his career. Getting this number back up toward the career-high he posted last year would go a long way toward making that contract feel a lot more palatable.

3. The Bulls defense suffered

I write a lot about the Bulls math problem in terms of their offense. And while their shot profile didn’t do them any favors, it was their defense that got out-mathed Sunday night.

To be clear — the Kings offense is extremely strong. At one point, they were scoring at a historic level. Now, just sixth in the NBA, Sacramento is averaging 116.3 points per 100 possessions. They’re at their best when they’re getting downhill off-the-dribble and either spraying it out to shooters or finishing at the rim.

The Kings were able to do just that, especially in the second quarter, which they won 33-20.

I’m not suggesting the Bulls need an all threes and layups shot chart, but when the opponent plays this way, the margin for error becomes smaller. Without an elite rim protector to clean up mistakes, the Bulls need to do a better job limiting the initial penetration to eliminate the cascade of passes that often results in an open three.

The Bulls were able to pull themselves together in the second half. Cleaning up turnovers helped eliminate transition points. Walling off the paint helped prevent the dribble penetration that leads to threes and layups. But the Bulls falling into a 15-point deficit is becoming a seemingly gamely event. They can’t wait to get in a hole to decide to start defending.

Up next: Bulls finally go home to the United Center to face the Wizards on Wednesday night

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