Bulls observations: Zach LaVine catches fire, but Bulls fall short vs. 76ers

Rob Schaefer
NBC Sports Chicago

For a time, the Bulls hung around with the Sixers on the road, but ultimately fell 118-111 in a familiar feeling loss. Here's some observations:

Furkan Korkmaz: Destroyer of Bulls

Korkmaz was out of his Furkan mind tonight. And not for the first time. Remember: He dropped 24 points and six 3-pointers (both career-highs at the time) against the Bulls on Jan. 17, and just last week, broke both those marks with a 34-point, seven 3-pointer outing against the Grizzlies. 

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Tonight, he came out scorching hot from the jump, scoring 17 points and canning four 3-pointers in the first quarter alone. Then, with the Bulls surging in the fourth, he ripped off five quick points to put the Sixers up 10 with just under four minutes to play. He finished the night with 31 points on 12-for-17 shooting (6-for-11 from 3). Sheesh.

Ben Simmons submitted another all-encompassing performance against the Bulls, as well. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and was devastating both facilitating on the run and finishing at the rim. That's his fourth triple-double in eight career games against Chicago.

A fine night for the fill-ins

Without Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford (who was ‘available' but didn't see the floor), the Bulls got solid enough offensive production out of their centers against one of the more forceful frontcourts in the NBA.

Luke Kornet kept the Bulls afloat out of the gate - scoring eight of the team's first 10 points and hitting two 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game - but picked up two fouls in the process. Cristiano Felicio played nicely in his stead for a while, notching 11 points and six rebounds on 5-for-6 shooting in the opening two quarters.

On the game, those two combined for 38 points, with 25 of those coming from Kornet (though he corralled just two rebounds). And as a team, the Bulls managed to hang around in the interior battle, scoring 54 paint points to the Sixers' 52 and losing the glass just 44-42.

But defensively, they weren't enough to handle Joel Embiid for four quarters. Embiid shot just 2-for-7 from the field in the first half, but responded with 18 points and eight rebounds in the second half, including a backbreaking and-one that effectively put the Bulls to bed, late. On a night he wasn't his best, Embiid finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals, and went to the foul line 14 times. 

Zach LaVine snapped out of a mini-funk

LaVine has been in something of a funk (by his lofty standards), of late. In his last five games prior to this one, he averaged 21 points per contest on just 39.6% shooting (18.8% from 3) - a stretch the Bulls went 1-4 in.

But, on the road against a top-tier defense, he achieved human torch status tonight. In an especially infernic spurt, LaVine scored or assisted on 25 of 30 Bulls points between the 2:09 mark of the second quarter and the 3:23 mark of the third - a run he capped off with back-to-back pull-up 3-pointers from the parking lot. He finished with 15 points and five long-balls in the third.


As LaVine warmed, the Bulls flipped a 15-point first half deficit into a level score entering the fourth quarter. The third quarter has been a plague on the Bulls to this point in the season, but tonight, they outscored Philly 28-23 in the period, spurred by their long-range shooting (5-for-11 from deep, all five makes by LaVine) and transition buckets (they had an 11-5 advantage on the fastbreak in the period). 

LaVine finished the night with 32 points on 11-for-21 in 40 minutes of action in a game he had been listed questionable for with neck stiffness. Though it didn't result in a win, any critiques of him only slaying bums can wait for another day. It's Lavine's seventh 30-point game of the season, and his eight assists, three steals and two blocks give reason to be encouraged by the state of his all-around game.

"It all [speaks] to his maturity and his development. I met him at the bus this morning at 9:30, he went over and shot, he was the only guy that went over and shot, and he got himself ready to play," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. "And I thought he played great. Proud of him."

"If I feel like I can play, I'm going to play. Obviously, it hurts. But I felt pretty good out there. And once adrenalin gets going... I'm good, man," LaVine said. "I don't like missing games. Since I hurt myself and I had to miss all those games, it takes a toll on you. I love basketball. I'm gonna go out there and play if I can."

Another good team, another tough loss

The Sixers pulled away in the fourth quarter, though, making 10 of their first 13 shots in the frame and ultimately outscoring the Bulls 35-28 (while shooting 63.6%). On a night the Bulls shot nearly 50% from the field and 40% from 3, they couldn't get the stops they needed down the stretch to get over the hump.

It's a familiar-feeling loss, but hardly a surprising one. The Sixers (now 24-2 at Wells Fargo Arena) own the most commanding homecourt advantage in the league, and the Bulls remain about as undermanned as one could imagine. In that vein, tonight was another discouraging one for the defense: Philadelphia scored 118 points, shot 50% from the field (40.7% from 3), dished 29 assists and took 32 free throws. When engaged, the hosts got just about everything they wanted, offensively.

"I thought they made a few more shots, I thought they got the ball to Embiid deep," Boylen said of the fourth (Embiid had 12 of his 28 in the final frame). "They got a good basketball team." 

Here's something else that felt familiar:

It was a more entertaining and competitive game than it seemed it would be coming in, but ultimately, the night ends with the Bulls losers of five straight and 3-21 against teams at or above-.500 (those two extra wins come by virtue of the Grizzlies moving to their current 26-26 sitting). Talks of a last-gasp playoff push stall yet again, as the team moved to a season-high 16 games under .500. The season inches one step closer to a breaking point with the All-Star break around the corner.

Next up: the Wizards in D.C. on Tuesday.

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Bulls observations: Zach LaVine catches fire, but Bulls fall short vs. 76ers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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