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Get right win or just taking care of business?

Will Gottlieb Avatar
January 29, 2023

After back-to-back rock bottom contenders against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday and the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday, the Bulls finally put their foot on the gas in the second half.

From the tail end of the third quarter to the first few minutes of the fourth, the Magic cut their 25-point deficit to five.

The Bulls built their lead back up and survived the onslaught from Cole Anthony (21 points) and Mo Wagner (27 points) to salvage the three-game road trip with a 128-109 win in Orlando.

Instead, the DeRozan (32 points), LaVine (32 points) and Vucevic (26 points) combined for 90 points. Patrick Williams (16 points) continued his strong strides in January with eight fourth quarter points, including a late three to help extend the lead and the Bulls.

But was this a shift in identity that makes you feel better about the long term outlook?

Given the fact that the Magic nearly finished off a 25-point comeback, this should not be treated as a get right win. The Bulls did what they needed to, but I’m not sure how encouraging this win is in the bigger picture.

Nikola Vucevic, quietly dominating

Vucevic is playing his best basketball since joining the Chicago Bulls. He adds to his strong January statline with 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, 13 rebounds and 6 assists.

In the 12 games in January leading up to Saturday night’s matchup with the Magic, Vucevic has averaged 19.6 points, 13 rebounds, 4.3 assists on an incredible 62 percent true shooting. He’s shooting nearly 55 percent from the field, up to his career average of 36.4 percent on threes and 79.2 from the line.

Of late, the Bulls have been at their best playing through Vucevic. Even though he doesn’t necessarily get the assist on this play in particular, but it speaks to the value of the shots he is able to generate.

With the efficient post scoring Vucevic provides, he either forces a double-team or has a one-on-one. If the Bulls continue to make the extra pass, hit open shots, or attack closeouts to keep the defense in a scramble, they’ll have a great shot at a more sustainable source of half court offense.

Patrick Williams’ strong month of January

The Paw is surging.

Williams has upped his output to 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds while shooting 46.8 percent from the field, 41.8 percent on threes and 85.7 percent from the line in January. Those numbers don’t explode off the page, but they’re a boost in points (up from 10.2 points per game on the season) while maintaining almost the exact same efficiency.

Williams has 28 free throw attempts this month. He had 35 in the prior three months combined. His 14 steals in the month of January match the 14 he had in December and November combined. We’re seeing growth from Williams in the form of aggression, awareness and consistency.

He doesn’t need to score 20 a night, he just needs to be a high-level fourth option and defensive stopper, and that’s exactly what he has been over the past month.

[More: A day-by-day journal of the CHGO Bulls trip to Paris]

Lonzo Ball and the trade deadline

Billy Donovan just threw a sopping wet blanket on whatever hope you had that Lonzo Ball might return this season.

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?'” Donovan told reporters in Orlando.

Since the initial 4-6 week timetable for the Bulls to re-evaluate Ball after undergoing his second surgery on September 28, this is the first time the Bulls have put a relative date on a check in.

“I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?'”

Though they didn’t pick out a date, it seems like they’re acknowledging the fact that time is slipping away from them. And he’s simply not close to a return.

“As much as he’s made some progress, and some slow progress, I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing, he’s just not.”

I’ve been skeptical all season that Ball would be able to make a comeback, but now that Donovan has made it clear the clock is running low, it’s looking less and less likely.

It’s important to note that Donovan serves as the voice of the organization in these settings, so when he says something to this effect, it is lock step with what the larger organization is thinking.

With that in mind, it would surprise me if the Bulls didn’t factor this into the calculus ahead of the trade deadline on February 9th.

If the idea this season was to get whole and see what the Bulls could do with Ball back in the lineup, they’re beginning to come to the realization that their plan may not happen. As a result, they need to be prepared to adjust.

Now three games under .500 with just five games before the trade deadline, the Bulls have some huge decisions to make about their future, without much in the way of short term clarity.

Buckle up.

Up Next: The Bulls have two days off before a four-game homestand starting with the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.

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