Bulls blank Pelicans for second-straight blowout preseason win

Lonzo Ball scored 19 points against his former team as the Bulls cruised to a 121-85 victory.
by Sam Smith
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The Chicago Bulls won their second-straight exhibition game by 36 points, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 121-85 in the United Center on Friday night. Zach LaVine paced the Bulls with 21 points. Former Pelican Lonzo Ball scored 19 points on 5-of-6 shooting from downtown. Next, the Bulls travel to Cleveland to take on the Cavaliers in more preseason action on Sunday night.

Perhaps the greatest coach of all time would see one of his players on the court hesitating and looking toward him on the bench.

John Wooden, hands clasped in his lap, would stare back and say, "Don't look at me." Because failing to prepare is preparing to fail. They know what to do; so do it.

The Bulls surely have been as Bulls coach Billy Donovan appears to be adopting the Wooden model. And it helps to have a pair of UCLA guards.

Because once again in running—and running, and running, and running—up another 40-point lead, the Bulls Friday in a 121-85 exhibition game victory over the New Orleans Pelicans demonstrated a swift style of play, not mistaking activity for achievement, that had plenty of wizardry.

With Zach LaVine gliding to a team high 21 points, primarily on the receiving end, and fellow former UCLA product Lonzo Ball adding 19 points with five of six three pointers, the Bulls ran to dominance as the starters again played three quarters and piled up a 39-point lead.

"I think we are just trying to play to our personnel," said LaVine, the Bulls with double-digit steals again to ignite the all-court game. "There is no reason to slow down when we have so many athletes on the floor. Obviously with Vooch (Nikola Vucevic 16 points, ten rebounds and four steals) in the game we are going to have to get him touches here and there. But he's finding the ball coming into his lap with him trailing into threes or getting into the pocket; we are playing fast. Whoever gets the ball to rebound, we are out. If not we are giving it to ‘Zo and letting him call the play and go from there."

And again it's been rub-your-eyes too good to believe with such an appealingly fast game the players have adapted to so quickly and readily.

The Bulls dominated for the second straight game, beating the Pelicans 121-85 Friday night at the United Center.

Since LaVine has been with the Bulls he's often been criticized for holding onto the ball. Would he adapt with more talent; could he? Did he want to?

No one seemingly has embraced the style of play as much as LaVine, who seems barely to have the ball at all while leading the Bulls in scoring in both preseason game wins. You check the box score afterward and seem to mumble, "I don't remember him scoring all those points."

"You don't want to have to try to do everything; it's not fun," LaVine said. "I'm getting easy shots. I missed a bunch tonight, actually. Two for seven on threes. I should have made three more in my book. I'm getting wide open shots and still am able to play my game and be in pick and roll and handle the ball, but it's not like it's an every possession type of thing. I'm enjoying it."

There's plenty of disclaimers to go around, it being preseason without scouting, other teams not playing regulars, the Bulls home without travel. Both Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram sat out for New Orleans.

But everyone in the game was being paid an NBA salary. And once again it was only the guys in Bulls white who seemed to deserve it; and deserve being watched.

It began immediately with another 30-point first quarter start, Javonte Hustle, er Green, forcing a pair of turnovers as fill-in for Patrick Williams and running out for a three-point play, LaVine giving off to Vucevic for a rolling score and 15-4 Bulls lead, Vucevic drawing a double and immediately passing to Ball for a driving score, Lonzo stealing the ball and pushing ahead to Green for free throws and 19-6 halfway into the first.

Fabulous fan favorite Alex Caruso, who had 10 points and five assists, cycled in to close the quarters as he's been doing and made a three at the first quarter buzzer. Then in the second quarter it was we-thought-he-didn't-shoot Ball with back to back threes, three in the quarter for 11 points while LaVine wiggled around for a dozen and another Bulls 60-point half and 25-point midway lead.

Talk about another Big Easy victory.

"It's the activity of the guys," credited Donovan. "Lonzo is very, very long, Alex Caruso is long, DeMar (DeRozan with 12 points) is long, Zach is long. They have great wing spans and they can cover a lot of ground and get in passing lanes. When we are in good position and those guys can get their length involved that's where we can be disruptive; they have good hands and they can kind of slap down and generate a lot steals and loose ball opportunities. And one thing is encouraging we've been pretty good these first couple of games with coming up with loose basketballs. These guys find ways to come out with these plays. Because of those guys' speed and quickness and length, we can be very explosive in transition if we can get the ball.

"I do think on free throw situations and dead ball or time outs I help them as much as I can," said Donovan. "I'm also wanting to give Zach and Lonzo and DeMar, I wouldn't say freedom or leeway, but I want to give them (the opportunity to) call it, ‘You get us organized.' Because I think if I am yelling it off the bench all the time what happens is you become slower. Because now they are looking over and looking over and looking over and they have to get accustomed on makes and misses to coming down and flowing."

So they've taken to being quick without hurrying.

No one is suggesting there's some 88-win wizardry streak on the horizon or seven straight titles as the great UCLA teams accomplished. But as successful as that UCLA dynasty was, their mode of play was at least as pleasing with its flow and on court benevolence. Like Wooden said, happiness begins when selfishness ends.

These Bulls have their fans smiling.

Lonzo Ball hits a three-pointer against the Pelicans

Lonzo Ball hits a three-pointer against the Pelicans.

The Bulls again had more than 30 assists like in the opener against Cleveland, this time 32 evenly divided with six players having at least three led by Caruso's five. Ball also had five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block and in 51 minutes in the two games Ball has nine assists and one turnover.

The aggression off the bench also continued as Alize Johnson hustled his way to nine rebounds and five assists in 13 minutes. The reserves without Coby White are a bit scoring challenged, so Donovan rotated DeRozan back with the second unit at the start. As the game progressed, he often paired LaVine with Vucevic and DeRozan with Ball to keep scorers in the game with various reserve players.

The defense was again sharp, although New Orleans was missing its best scorers. But this Bulls group has been working hard to go over screens and often has been picking up in the backcourt to slow the opponent's advance. And Ball lobbed one to high jumping Derrick Jones Jr. in his first action just to show they can.

"It is preseason, but we are trying to be serious and worry about us," said LaVine. "As long as we keep playing with the same intensity, it will carry over into the season. We'll have some ups and downs like other teams, but as long as we worry about ourselves and continue to build that mentality. We're unselfish to understand it's not going to be one guy every single night. We can all contribute."

You know, make each night a masterpiece.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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