Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan take star turns as Bulls' offense clicks

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LaVine, DeRozan take star turns as Bulls' offense clicks originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Saturday night marked the first time this season that Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan each scored 30 or more points in the same game.

That the Chicago Bulls won and improved to 8-3 over their last 11 games made this statistic even more powerful.

Don’t look now, but the Bulls’ offense---tweaked by coach Billy Donovan and his staff over the offseason---is starting to gain some traction. At 119.2, the Bulls own the fourth-best offensive rating in the NBA over that 11-game stretch, which began following the 150-point-allowed debacle in Minnesota.

And LaVine finding his form, particularly with his 3-point barrage over the last two games, is a big reason why.

Remember earlier this season when questions centered on whether or not LaVine would play in back-to-back games because of the knee management plan following his offseason surgery? Now, he’s merely scoring 77 points on back-to-back nights, shooting a ridiculous 17-for-25 from 3-point range in the process.

“It’s good to feel like me again,” LaVine said.

Particularly without Lonzo Ball, LaVine represents the Bulls’ best weapon when it comes to increasing a league-low attempts from beyond the arc. Donovan even said he’d like to see LaVine take 10 to 15 3-pointers a game, while acknowledging he obviously needs to read the defense and not force shots.

“I would love that,” Donovan said. “The more 3s he gets up because he’s so great and so elite, the more it opens up another area he’s elite at and that’s driving the ball to the basket.”

During preseason, Donovan called for a more “random” offense, a philosophy he slightly clarified postgame Saturday. While still striving for less isolation and predictable, he emphasized the offense is less about randomness and more about making the right reads in the flow of the game off missed shots.

That’s a process that takes time---and a lot of film sessions. Add in the uncertainty surrounding LaVine’s knee management plan and LaVine’s need to play his way into game rhythm following an offseason of rehab and that’s a big reason why the offense sputtered often earlier in the season.

Now, it’s clicking.

“It’s coming along. We had a lot of trial and error early on where you saw the inconsistency,” DeRozan said. “We’re just finding our rhythm, sharing the ball, understanding our spots.”

DeRozan has quietly been authoring an offensive season almost as impressive and efficient as last season’s in which he earned All-NBA status. With LaVine rounding into form, that offers a pick-your-poison option for opposing defenses.

Particularly if LaVine is raining in 3-pointers, which either creates driving lanes for LaVine later in the game, room for DeRozan to operate in the midrange---or both.

“I mean, it’s everything for me,” DeRozan said of what LaVine’s 3-point marksmanship does for his game. “I don’t need too much room. When Zach got it going, it’s just a pick of the litter from there. It definitely makes it easy for all of us.”

According to Elias Sports, DeRozan and LaVine became just the third duo to score 35 or more points in the same game over the last 25 years of Bulls games. That only has happened nine times in franchise history.

“I thought Zach and DeMar complemented each other so well,” Donovan said. “And even though (Nikola Vucevic) did not have a big offensive night, I thought he generated a lot of stuff from the post in terms of kickouts and open shots for our guys.”

One night after posting a triple double, Vucevic finished with 15 points, 16 rebounds and four assists.

The NBA is a star-driven league. The Bulls’ stars are playing at a high level at the same time. That leads to winning basketball.

Told that Donovan would like to see double-digit 3-point attempts each game, LaVine smiled.

“I’ll try if I can,” he said.

But LaVine grew more serious when asked about how his season has moved from whether or not he’d play in back-to-backs to now dominating them. He's the only player in franchise history who has scored at least 35 points with at least six 3-pointers in back-to-back games.

“It’s what happens when you come off surgery, man,” he said. “Everybody expects you to come back and be yourself or better. But without a lot of training and rehab, you’re going to have to go through those ups and downs. I take it on the chin. I knew I was going to get back to what I was supposed to do.”

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