Lonzo Ball’s triple-double leads Bulls’ rout of Pelicans

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9 observations: Showtime Bulls shell Pelicans in home opener originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

For the first time since the 2016-17 season, the Chicago Bulls are 2-0.

And their second victory of 2021-22, a 128-112 thrashing of the New Orleans Pelicans in front of a packed United Center, featured some exhilarating highs and encouraging offensive signs.

Here are nine observations:

1. The Bulls threatened another uneven offensive start, but the wheels began to whir towards the end of the first quarter. Their transition game was the key, and produced a number of memorable highlights, including loud dunks from DeMar DeRozan and Javonte Green.

The Bulls scored 10 fastbreak points en route to a 28-17 lead after 12 minutes. They scored 15 fastbreak points all game against the Pistons in the opener.

2. Lonzo Ball won’t admit it, but his performance had first regular-season matchup against the team that signed-and-traded him away written all over it. 

It’s not just that he finished with a triple-double of 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in his second game as a Bull. He played with aggression from start to finish, and as is typical for the do-it-all lead guard, that aggression came to fruition in a multitude of areas.

On the glass, Ball pulled down double-digit boards (five in that first quarter alone), and consistently looked to get out in transition off the defensive ones. Those 10 dimes largely came in the fast-paced flow he helped cultivate. He also nabbed three steals, and in one sublime sequence flew from across the court to block a Pelicans 3-point attempt. For good measure, he added three 3-pointers and shot 6-for-11 from the floor, including a forceful lay-in on the game’s opening possession. 

Suffice it to say: Nights like this make it hard to believe New Orleans was so ready to let Ball walk in restricted free agency last offseason. His impact was all-encompassing.

3. Between Ayo Dosunmu (7) and Alex Caruso (3), the Bulls’ bench combined to muster just 10 points against the Pistons. In this one, they got 10 from Javonte Green alone, and as a unit, outscored the Pelicans reserves 35-26, 33-20 before garbage-time fully took hold.

Until Coby White returns, a lack of spacing and shot-creation among the second-stringers will be a concern, but that was alleviated on a night the Bulls played at such a breakneck pace. Troy Brown Jr. contributed two 3s, Alize Johnson notched eight points and eight rebounds, and Caruso posted nine points, including a blowout-capping alley-oop from Ball late in the fourth.

4. Green, in particular, supplied a spark in his now firmly-established role as the team’s backup power forward. In the first quarter, he scored six points, blocked two shots and swiped a steal, wreaking havoc as a defender on and off the ball and running the floor hard in transition. In the third quarter, he added a gravity-defying putback dunk.

"He brings that dog mentality to the game," Zach LaVine said of Green after the game. "Do whatever for the team. Sacrifice his body. Guard the best player. Run the floor. Do all the dirty work."

Green may be 6-foot-4, but he plays with an edge that could make him immensely valuable to the Bulls this year.

5. LaVine didn’t score his first points until six minutes into the second quarter — a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the corner. Past iterations of this roster couldn’t have weathered a slow-shooting start from LaVine, but on this night, his first bucket vaulted them from 12 points ahead to 15.

The floodgates opened soon after. By halftime — i.e. less than six minutes later — LaVine was the game’s leading scorer with 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting, 4-for-6 from 3-point range. From transition leak-outs, to off-the-dribble long-balls, he had it all working and it looked effortless. The Bulls led 65-47.

In the second half, he added another 12 points, drawing MVP chants on multiple fourth-quarter trips to the free-throw line, to finish with 32 points (6-for-9 from 3-point range), six rebounds and five assists. LaVine has back-to-back 30-spots to open the season.

6. LaVine has spoken repeatedly about the luxury of being able to share scoring responsibilities with DeRozan and Nikola Vučević when one, or two, of that trio are having an off night. While LaVine was absent on the score sheet early on, it was DeRozan who stepped up, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. Then, DeRozan, who finished with 26 points and nine free-throw attempts, anchored the reserve-centric unit that put the game from within 10 points midway through the third quarter to completely out of reach.

In one game-sealing stretch, the Bulls engineered a 22-4 run to go from up 85-73 late in the third to 107-77 early in the fourth. DeRozan, with ludicrous shot-making, and Ball, with his IQ on both ends, had their fingerprints all over that spurt.

7. The Bulls’ preseason formula for success returned in this one. They scored 27 points off (17) Pelicans turnovers and 24 points on the fastbreak. And after a subpar offensive performance in Detroit, they bounced back to shoot 52.8 percent from the floor and 14-for-28 from 3-point range.

8. Billy Donovan deployed a nine-man rotation when the minutes mattered. The starters, plus Caruso, Green, Brown and Alize Johnson at backup center. Dosunmu (to raucous applause on every touch), Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley and Matt Thomas soaked up mop-up minutes late.

9. For a barometer of just how jazzed the new-look Bulls had the Chicago faithful that trickled into the United Center Friday night, look no further than the MVP chants Caruso drew while at the free-throw line late in the second and fourth quarters. 

The team’s highlight-packed performance lived up to LaVine’s pregame promise the Bulls will be a “team to make you guys proud.” To call that home opener “fun” might be understating matters, especially given the arena was at fuller capacity than it's been since the 2019-20 season.

Next up: Home for the Pistons on Saturday.

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