The Bulls Friday got a win, 101-92 over the Washington Wizards, though perhaps more importantly a chance to dream. And you never are too young to dream big.
Like Tupac said, Dreams are for real.
“We can all get hot and be the No. 1 option,” Zach LaVine, who led six Bulls in double figures with 24 points, was saying about he, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn starting together for the first time this season. “You have to understand that as a player. This is basketball. You have to recognize the hot man, and when something is going right keep riding that. We're all learning how to play with one another and learning our spots, and we are going to get this thing going.”
If it’s going like in the second half Friday, it could well be compelling as LaVine had 19 of his points and the Bulls shot 61 percent and pulled away from the shorthanded Wizards after a dreary first half. Washington was missing injured John Wall, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris. But the reality was a Bulls team activated by LaVine once again, but complemented well by Markkanen, Dunn, Wendell Carter Jr. and a fourth quarter close from Robin Lopez.
“Just the fact they are all great offensive players not a lot of people are able to help off of them,” Carter noted about the Bulls promised Big Three. “It definitely was a lot more room (for me); definitely excited. When everyone gets completely healthy, Zach doing what he does, once every one gets 100 percent and Bobby (Portis) with the energy he brings, I think we are going to be a very, very good young team.”
Carter, in one of his best games of the season, had 17 points — 11 in the first quarter with his higher profile teammates starting slowly — 13 rebounds and three blocks. Markkanen had 14 points and 14 rebounds, Dunn had 13 points and eight assists and Lopez had 10 points and the second best plus/minus rating to LaVine.
“I try to do whatever, plug and play,” said Lopez, who had three late fourth-quarter baskets and even drew a double team from frustrated Wizards defenders. “Whatever my team needs from me, that’s what I’m going to try to generate.”
Lopez had vital back-to-back low post scores with his unerring hook shot midway through the fourth quarter to maintain a nine-point Bulls lead that Washington could never much shake the rest of the game. But the Bulls broke open a tight game with nine lead changes and 10 ties early in the fourth quarter with LaVine scoring, Lopez backing down for a short hook and an unexpected three from Shaquille Harrison after a nice ball swing from Lopez out of the double team to Chandler Hutchison and onto Harrison in the corner.
It didn’t as much define the game, but was an indication of the growing versatility and defense the Bulls have exhibited. They’re now 10-26. Washington dropped to 13-23.
“So we come in at halftime and Zach has three shots (for five points),” noted Bulls coach Jim Boylen. “He didn't panic. He wasn't flustered and the game turned for him. He gave it to us the second half. I thought we got a lot from a lot of guys. I thought Rolo was dominant there for a couple of minutes. Kris Dunn had his moments. Lauri had his moments. I thought our defense was our constant.
“The defense has to honor Lauri, they have to be careful of Dunn,” said Boylen. “They’ve got to bring two to him sometimes. When you have three good players like that, people know and are prepared. It’s hard to stop three guys. You can maybe stop two and maybe they felt Zach didn’t get off in the first half, but it’s hard to hold a guy down when you play the right way.”
The talk in Washington was about the government being shut down, and that was nothing compared to the inactivity in the combined offenses to start the game. The Bulls were kept afloat primarily by Carter in pick and roll with Dunn and being more certain with his shot.
“I’m not hesitating,” said Carter. “That’s when I miss most of the time, when I hesitate. Just being free, catch and with an open shot take it. When I am rolling, if open go all the way and if not (pass).”
Markkanen, after a slow shooting start, had a couple of driving slam dunks that woke up the fans while Washington’s Bradley Beal tried to match the Bulls. Beal finished with 34 points.
But then it was the expansive and entertaining LaVine who supplied the energy with an inside and outside array of third quarter drives and jump shots. It got the Bulls a 74-72 lead after three in an NBA-like 12 minutes, and then LaVine and, of all guys, Lopez stole the magic from the Wizards.
“Rolo, he can score pretty much on any big,” said LaVine. “He’s a down low presence. Coach calls him meat grinder or something like that; coach got that old 80s terminology.
“We are trying to figure out our spots and when to attack and to be aggressive because there is one ball out there and we all are very talented scorers,” said LaVine. “You have to sacrifice things here and there, but I think we played it really good, and we got the win. That is all that matters. The main thing is that we are learning how to win. I knew I was going to be more aggressive in the second half. Just knowing me.”
LaVine had a 30-minute playing limit coming back from an ankle injury. He glanced at the box score while speaking to reporters to find out he played a bit less than 29 minutes, 66 seconds fewer than promised.
“Could have gotten another six points,” LaVine said with a laugh.
There’s a brighter day.