The Bulls finally figured it out in Sunday's 130-116 win over the Portland Trailblazers.
Enough with the defense.
It's time to do what they do best as long as arguably their four best defensive players remain out with injuries. Which is score. This is the Bulls team we thought we were getting when the Bulls last spring traded for center Nikola Vucevic and then in the summer acquired scorer DeMar DeRozan. Until we got a look at Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, as Bulls coach Billy Donovan likes to say, at the point of attack.
So until they return, as much as you're not supposed to admit it in sports—after all, they chant D-fence, D-fence and they never chant O-fence, O-fence—the Bulls are just going to have to outscore them.
Which the Bulls did well enough against Portland with Nikola Vucevic getting 24 points and 14 rebounds, DeMar DeRozan 23 points and 10 assists, Zach LaVine 20 points and Coby White off the bench with 18 points and three consecutive three pointers in the second quarter that sent the Bulls to a lead they turned into a double-digit margin most of the second half.
Tap to watch postgame highlights from Chicago's victory of Portland on Sunday night.
"Whatever the team needs me to do," said White, back to the bench after two stints starting since returning from his shoulder surgery. "My role changes all the time. I've just got to adapt and continue to adjust. It's nothing new for me. I've been doing it for awhile. Whatever the team needs I'm down to do whatever."
It's been a mini renaissance for White, who went through a recent brutal four-game despondency missing 24 of 27 threes. In the last two games since then, he's averaging 18 points and has made seven of 13 threes.
"I feel like teams load up against Zach and DeMar, so if I can help by making some catch and shoot shots teams maybe won't load up as much," White theorized. "Trying to help those guys spacing wise. It's trusting my shot, and if I'm open shooting it."
It might be the incantation for the Bulls for the next month or so, if it also perforce unspoken.
No one can admit defense isn't the No. 1 priority.
Nikola Vucevic had 24 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists in the win over Portland.
It's associated with toughness, commitment and success. But at the same time every good coach talks about playing to their team's strength and putting players in the best position to succeed.
The Bulls as presently comprised look more like an offensive juggernaut.
So let those horses run?
Like Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward."
If you can't beat ‘em up, beat ‘em off the dribble. If you can't jump ‘em on the pick and roll, then hit ‘em with the jump shots. If you can't trap, then don't fall into one.
Though I suspect no one will be quoting that one years from now.
But what's wrong with outscoring them? After all, they still determine the winner by the most points no matter how many.
And it was a lot again as the Trailblazers without Damian Lillard scored 116 points, including 65 in the first half, shot 52 percent overall and 46 percent on threes. But with Javonte Green hustling for his 16 points, Ayo Dosunmu with a career high 11 assists among the Bulls 36, and Tony Bradley resurfacing with 10 points in 16 minutes, the Bulls finally wore out the hot shooting Trailblazers with a 10-3 start to the second half that Portland never could recover from.
Though Donovan said the team did a bit better in the second half closing out on their three-point shooting, the coach also tweaked the offense to have DeRozan and LaVine pushing the ball up court more after halftime.
Zach LaVine hammers the one-hand jam off a sweet DeMar DeRozan dish in transition against Portland.
Rookie Dosunmu has been starting at point guard with Ball and Caruso injured. But he tends to play haltingly in initiating offense on top. He seems better passing from plays off the wing, where he played until the injuries. DeRozan began the third quarter with the ball and then handed off to LaVine as the Bulls bulled to a 94-75 lead and jabbed the Trailblazers to submission the rest of the way.
Bradley was effective inside in his surprise cameo and Vucevic kept up his impressive play with his eighth double-double in the last nine games. He is sixth in the league in double-doubles.
"I don't follow that unless somebody tells me, but it's good to know," said the insouciantly chill native of Switzerland.
"Some of the games we lost we understood our defense wasn't good enough and and even tonight to start the game, they really got going and we weren't getting stops," Vucevic noted about the 35-29 Portland first quarter lead with seven of 11 three. "Once we did we were able to build a little bit of a lead. I think now we have a better understanding if we want to be a really good team and have a deep push at the end of the year our defense has to be there.
"When you are winning and everything is clicking, offensively you kind of get lost in it," said Vucevic. "But I think we got the message and now hopefully we can continue to work at it and become better and more consistent because we've shown we can do it; it's a matter of doing it every night."
It's what players have to say.
You know, happy to be here, hope I can help, just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing things will work out.
Reporters ask about defense. Players after losses say it has to be better. When opponents miss they say it was better. But are they missing because of the defense? Or sometimes do they just get arm tired, like the Trailblazers seemed to firing off 39 threes.
"I think in the first quarter we had the right intentions," said Donovan. "But the thing we did a really poor job with is the closeouts. I thought we got better as the game went on."
Tap to watch postgame thoughts and reactions from Bulls head coach Billy Donovan following Chicago's win over Portland.
It's not clear, meanwhile, what the Trailblazers were doing with Lillard out. They have a talented center in Jusuf Nurkic, who scored just about every time he posted up. Fortunately for the Bulls, the Trailblazers gave him just five shots as their Nurkic-itis seemed to be spreading. Just three more shots than Tony Snell, who doesn't like to shoot.
Which was welcomed by the Bulls, who remain second in the Eastern Conference at 31-18. The Trailblazers dropped to 21-29, 10th in the West. They'd have to make the playoffs for the Bulls to get their draft pick this season. Lillard has indicated he might not return from injury even if he can, which is uncertain, if the team were not in at least serious playoff contention.
The Bulls are in serious playoff contention, which they figure to be the rest of the regular season. They've been weakened by the losses of their best defenders, Ball and Caruso. But they also need to be careful not to make the mistake many teams do, which is pushing players to be what the team needs instead of who they are. Sure, if they can do that, fine. But you also don't want to forget what got your there.
With Ball and Caruso, and to a lesser extent Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr., the Bulls could apply more pressure, get steals and deflections into transition points. They don't do so much of that now, four fast break points Sunday, though they did have ten steals. But also having to play as much as the regulars do now with the absences, pressure, trapping and blitzing isn't about to occur.
But in LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic with White easing into that classic sixth man scoring role, the Bulls have what few teams do in the NBA. Let's hear ya, O-fence, O-fence.