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In the much anticipated Lauri Markkanen revenge game, the Chicago Bulls took down the Utah Jazz 114-107 on Monday night and pushed their record to 9-11.
The Jazz have been the surprise story of the early NBA season. After unloading Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for a collection of misfit players and a treasure trove of draft capital, there is no reason they should have started the season 10-3. But new coach Will Hardy has his team clicking with one of the top offenses in the NBA with Markkanen being the head of the snake.
Markkanen looks so much more confident and comfortable as a member of the Jazz. He’s not doing anything remarkably different, but the touches he gets in the flow of the natural offense clearly maximize his skillset in a way he never experienced during his four seasons in Chicago. He continues to succeed as a three-point shooter, both standstill and off of pick-and-pop actions. He attacks closeouts and even flashed some post scoring. He finished with 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting, including 7-of-11 from deep — one more made three than the entire Bulls team combined.
After scoring 24 of his points in the first half, the Bulls adjusted well to contain him. The Jazz continued to pepper the Bulls with three-pointers, making 19 on the game. The Bulls only attempted 21.
The Bulls math problem persists, but their 22-of-25 to 6-of-15 edge from the free throw line helped quell the onslaught.
The Bulls have now started their road trip from hell 2-1 and have won three of their last four games.
Coby White, back at it again
White finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting and 3-for-5 on threes. He’s shooting 56 percent over his last four games and chipped in 10 three-pointers over that span. All of this over the course of a three wins in four games stretch. White won’t continue to be this ungodly of a shotmaker, but it’s all the other stuff he’s doing to keep him on the floor that’s earning Billy Donovan’s trust.
He drew a charge, got out in transition, hit a few pull-up jumpers and dunked on Markkanen.
White also came in clutch with a three that put the Bulls up nine points with 75 seconds to go:
This was an awesome read from DeMar DeRozan, who saw that he had drawn two defenders. But rather than forcing a pass to Nikola Vucevic with a defender closing in on him, he found White in the corner. It was a perfectly timed pass that caught the defense in no-man’s land.
White has now closed games against the Bucks and Jazz with the group of Alex Caruso, Zach LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic. That lineup is now +15.0 points per 100 possessions.
Zach LaVine finding easier baskets
I wrote after last game that I think LaVine makes life too difficult on himself.
The same was true Monday night when LaVine finished with 20 points on 7-for-20 shooting. He has three-straight games shooting below 40 percent from the field and is forcing things, so it’s nice to see him finding some easier looks in the form of cutting to the basket.
The percentage of LaVine’s offense that comes in the form of cutting is down from 3.8 percent in 2020-21 to 2.1 percent this year. These are the kinds of looks that will help him get in a rhythm and boost his shooting numbers.
Patrick Williams’ off-ball awareness
The last few games, I’ve been talking up Patrick Williams’ defense. I maintain that it has improved, particularly on-ball, but his off-ball awareness and attention to detail has been a problem.
This was the loudest, but certainly not the only example of Williams losing track of his man.
Williams also gave up a late offensive rebound in Friday’s loss to the Thunder, allowing them to ice the game. These are no doubt the kind of errors that cause him to overthink and hesitate on the other end.
Williams finished with five points and five rebounds. He did have a nice steal that led to a clear path foul, but aside from that, did not make much of an impact on the game. He’s built up enough good will with steady progress over the last ten or 15 games, so one regression game here or there doesn’t signal the alarms. But this off-ball awareness trend needs to be cleaned up to allow him to grow to another level.
Next up: Bulls @ Suns on Wednesday
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