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Bulls Q&A: DeMar DeRozan talks 4th-quarter play, pump-faking opponents, climbing all-time scoring list

Bulls Q&A: DeMar DeRozan talks 4th-quarter play, pump-faking opponents, climbing all-time scoring list originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

LOS ANGELES --- DeMar DeRozan grew up in Compton, Calif., as a Los Angeles Lakers fan and long has been a student and fan of the history of the NBA.

So when he was told recently that next up for him to pass on the all-time scoring list is Hall of Fame Lakers legend Elgin Baylor, DeRozan’s reaction was priceless.

“Oh really? Damn,” DeRozan said, pausing to collect his thoughts. “I wouldn’t have guessed that one.”

DeRozan needs 53 points to pass Baylor and 69 points to pass Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, who is DeRozan’s close friend and current offseason neighbor near Los Angeles.

“Oh, I can’t wait for that one,” DeRozan said, smiling at the prospect of light-hearted bragging rights over a player he respects immensely. “As soon as I pass him, I’m going to let him know.”

DeRozan is likely headed to the Hall of Fame himself one day. And he has long been an elite and efficient scorer. But what he’s doing on this current 3-0 trip for the Chicago Bulls that concludes on Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers is something special.

DeRozan scored 19 points in the fourth quarter of Monday’s victory over the Sacramento Kings, icing the game with two free throws with 3.5 seconds left.

He scored 17 points in the fourth quarter on Wednesday in Utah, sinking the go-ahead free throws with 9.3 seconds left.

And he pushed the Bulls ahead for good on Thursday against the Warriors by making a ridiculous and-one with 26 seconds left, pump-faking Jonathan Kuminga into the air with his patented move. For good measure, DeRozan added two free throws with 2.1 seconds left to finish with nine fourth-quarter points.

DeRozan is averaging 15 points on 66.7 percent shooting, including 92.3 percent from the line, in the three fourth quarters on this trip.

“DeMar is one of the great closers in the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He has been for 10 years.”

DeRozan, in his 15th season, recently sat down with NBC Sports Chicago to talk about climbing up the NBA’s all-time scoring list---he’s currently 35th---his offensive approach late in games and more.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

NBC Sports Chicago: How often do you check the all-time scoring list?

DeRozan: When I got 23,000 points, I didn’t check if I passed anybody. The last time I checked was when Steph (Curry) passed somebody. And I know me and Steph was neck and neck.

You’re right behind Elgin Baylor.

Oh, really? Damn. I wouldn’t have guessed that one.

I know that’s before your Laker fandom started. But you’re such a fan of the history of the game, so what would that one mean to you?

I mean, just seeing these names, passing these guys who are so historically embedded in the game of basketball, it never gets old. It’s beyond an honor to have the opportunity to pass these greats. It’s something I never take for granted. It’s a cool thing. It’s a cool thing internally with people I’m close to to have those bragging rights. That makes it fun.

Speaking of people you’re close to, the next one after Elgin Baylor is your latest guest from your “Dinners with DeMar” mental health awareness series, DWade.

Oh, I can’t wait for that one. I can’t wait until I pass him. As soon as I pass him, I’m going to let him know.

Joking aside, I know you have a ton of respect for DWade, right?

Man, DWade when I came in the league was by far the hardest person to guard. Me being a two and coming in the Eastern Conference, I had to see him so many times early in my career. Having the opportunity to play him in the playoffs in 2016, the way he played the game was so incredible. He was so physical, so fast. He had a drive to him that showed why he’s one of the best to ever do it. It’s beyond an honor. I grew up watching him play. So for me to be able to have a friendship with him means so much more to me. I can ask him so many questions for advice on late-career decisions. I remember talking to him when I came to Chicago and about what it’s like to play for that city. So to have the opportunity to pass somebody I admire, played in All-Star games with, competed against, have a great relationship with is definitely cool. It means a lot.

How much do you pride yourself on being able to deliver in the biggest moments?

It’s everything to me. As much as I study and watch the game of basketball, understanding runs, understanding opportunities, understanding spots, having self-confidence, everything comes into play in those moments. Those windows of opportunity, you try to relish them. That (Kings game) was a game where we did it as a team and I tried to do my best come the fourth quarter. Coming in at halftime, I had to hear it from my teammates, only shooting one time. Just pulling that out meant a lot.

You’ve been such an elite and efficient scorer for so long. How do you keep it fresh?

I’ve watched the game so much. I might see little opportunities from watching someone else play, how they’re able to get a bucket or get to the free-throw line or get to a spot. Or how defense might play late in the game. You pick and choose those moments. I watch so much basketball. And I watch so many of those late-game situations and getting to spots. It keeps me anxious to want to be in those moments again. Even like (Tuesday) night, watching the Denver-Phoenix game and you see KD (Kevin Durant) hit big shot after big shot. You understand how big those moments are. So you kind of play these mental gymnastics games so it becomes entertaining.

How much satisfaction do you take from still getting guys to bite on that pump fake. You got Jarrett Allen recently to force overtime against Cleveland. But you get veterans too?

It’s big. And it’s a feel. Early in the game, I pay attention to their bench and coaching staff saying, ‘Stay down. Don’t jump.’ I think it becomes a natural thing. I tell myself after that, if I get to a spot two or three times in a row and hit a shot, they’re going to be eager to jump regardless of what is being told to them. In those moments, it becomes like a chess game for me. And I always find amusement in it when I can still pull it off even though they know it’s coming.

You’re shooting the second-most 3-pointers per game of your career. And while you’re never going to be a high-volume guy, it looks like you’ve made more of a concerted effort to feature that shot?

I said it before the season: It’s definitely something I’m going to be mindful of, but I’m also so much a ‘picking-my-spots’ guy. I might have moments where I’m like, ‘I want to shoot eight or nine 3s a night.’ But I feel so comfortable in the so many positions I’m put in to feature my game. But when the 3 is there, I’m not shy to take the right ones. I’m comfortable in taking them. I’m more conscious of it this year, for sure, because I’m big on doing whatever is asked of me.

What it’s like to play in this age where so many of your peers are climbing the all-time scoring list?

It's a special thing. Because when you sit back, I realize I played against some of the greatest scorers in this league. To still be playing and passing guys is beyond amazing. Steph, James (Harden), Russ (Westbrook), KD, we’re all in the top-35 scoring of all-time. It really doesn’t hit me fully until the offseason when I really look at it. And that don’t come from accident. It comes with hard work, sacrificing, lot of pain. So it’s definitely something that’s cool.

And 40,000 points by LeBron James?

I was telling somebody the other night when I passed 23,000, I went home and I realized this man has 40,000. Like, c’mon man. In my opinion, I don’t think anybody will ever break that. It’s the most incredible thing you can ever witness. Props to LeBron to be dominant for 21 years.

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