Bulls cruise by Wizards, win ninth straight game

Chicago improved to 26-10 and are currently on a nine-game winning streak for the first time since April of 2011
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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Talk about having plenty in reserve.

Or among the reserves as the Bulls Friday ran their last decade best winning streak to nine games with a 130-122 victory over the Washington Wizards, supported by 53 points from the bench with 21 from Coby White and a career high 18 from Ayo Dosunmu.

Zach LaVine led with 27 points, and Nikola Vucevic filled in the box score with 16 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Luxuriating in the love of repeated MVP chants, DeMar DeRozan had just 15 points, but with a team most eight assists.

"They (bench) were great," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan, who also recorded his 300th NBA coaching victory. "Ayo played exceptionally well; so did Coby. Those guys were really good on both ends of the floor. Our main guys didn't really have in shooting numbers and percentages their typical night; it happens. It was good to see other guys step up and be able to contribute and help.

Tap to watch highlights from Chicago's 130-122 win over Washington at the United Center on Friday.

"I thought Ayo's (defensive) minutes on Brad (Beal leading Washington with 26 points) really made him work," said Donovan. "Ayo really works hard and did a lot of good things on both ends of the floor. Coby is really playing really good basketball. Besides making shots, the downhill drives, the kickouts, the way he's working on defense. The clip he is shooting the ball at is remarkable (20.5 points on 64 percent shooting the last four games). He's made the game easier for others and has been a good creator for others. He's got great toughness and resiliency and has been able to stay the course and I'm glad to see it rewarded. Coby is a winning player. What I mean by that is you put him out there and he'll play whatever position, off the ball, coming off the bench providing energy. He's had to adjust quite a bit, but I think Coby's just a basketball player: Two guard, point guard, scoring guard, ‘Label me anyway you want. I just want to go out and play.'"

And it seemed to be just another of those ho hum nights of play for the Bulls these days. Not that they aren't taking the games seriously, but just perhaps too seriously for some of these teams. The Wizards with Kyle Kuzma adding 21 points and Spencer Dinwiddie 18 stayed with the Bulls most of the way, trailing 37-32 after the first quarter, 73-66 at halftime in a mostly offensive free for all and then actually tied at 87 with 4:18 left in the third quarter.

That's almost when it seemed the Bulls collectively turned around, saw they were still there and decided that was enough.

Lonzo Ball followed with his sixth three pointer of the game for his 18 points, and spinning round the turn came the Bulls like Secretariat.

LaVine with a drive and slam dunk, then a jumper and a tough drive and foul, LaVine pumped up turning to the excited and welcoming United Center gathering and shouting. Then the scoring baton went to White for a three, another, and then a 20 footer at the buzzer—haven't the Wizards seen enough of that?—after a Tony Bradley put back of a Dosunmu miss, one of the few ones.

And so leading 107-95 going into the fourth quarter as the Bulls early in the second quarter and late in the third widened the margin against the Wizards weak bench with several virus absences, the Bulls starters mostly sat back. Dosunmu riding the high of his last 24 hours seeing his jersey retired in Champaign and apparently planning for it in the United Center helped keep the Wizards double figures in arrears most of the quarter. And perhaps relieved some as they probably couldn't take DeRozan doing them again.

Ayo Dosunmu finishes at the rim, scoring a career-high 18 points in the victory over the Wizards on Friday night.

Ayo Dosunmu finishes at the rim, scoring a career-high 18 points in the victory over the Wizards on Friday night.

"We play collectively as a group," said Dosunmu. "I think that camaraderie is reaching a very high level. We have a group that wants to play for each other. I think in building something great, that's the main thing that has to be done. We have a lot of unselfish guys. It starts with our point guard Lonzo. Vooch is very unselfish and Zach and DeMar play off each other well. Coach Donovan the way he coaches the good vibes rub off on everyone. We believe in each other and we know sacrifice has to be made in order to get to our goal, and our common goal is to play deep in the playoffs."

The way the Bulls have been going it seems perhaps evident now at 26-10 with a two and a half game lead in the Eastern Conference. Is there a date when they can finally start saying championship contender? OK, so they're never going to, but perhaps we can. It's sure looked like that lately.

The Bulls remarkable shooting continued with their second 50/40/90 game of the season, 52.7 percent shooting, 45.5 percent on threes and 90.5 percent on free throws. Only Denver also has two such games this season. Plus, the Bulls racked up 34 assists with just too many to count possessions with the ball flying around from one good shot to a better one. And courtesy of Vucevic a draw at 41 on the boards.

"I think we all just play together," said White. "Everybody just hoops when we're out there; we play hard and we want to win. Ayo came in and did his thing; it was only right after getting his jersey retired. Like we always say, don't take it for granted. But we've got to get better and push as a team.

"I've found a nice little rhythm," White added, "but my teammates have been finding me, so shout out to them. I've just been trying to make the right play. shoot drive or extra pass and get it done defensively. I just want to get in and make an impact any way I can.

Coby White finished with 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting off the bench in the win over Washington.

Coby White finished with 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting off the bench in the win over Washington.

"I ain't gonna lie and sit here and be like (I knew) at the beginning of the year we'd be number one in the East," said White. "I knew we'd be really good from training camp; we've got a team filled with winning players and hungry players that want to win. It's definitely been dope, super fun; my first two years were different from this. It's been fun to win again and like I always say, we're just a bunch of guys who love to hoop, and love each other on and off the court; so we get it done."

White is one of the best stories on a team filled with them because he's been through so much more.

Sure, LaVine has as well the way he was doubted even as he was recording so many highlights. But he was getting the rewards, All-Star, Olympic team.

White was the test dummy. He's a point guard, no he's a shooting guard. He's a reserve, no he's a starter. That was the rookie year. Then he was a point guard again and reserve. Then he was a starter and a shooter. Then he was in surgery, and then on the trading block, at least in the eyes of many critics.

And then after a dose of Covid as well, no longer a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. More like, as Churchill apparently said, like Lou Williams wrapped in Jamal Crawford inside Ben Gordon. OK, Fred Churchill. White is 16 for 24 on threes his last four games providing the Bulls with the offensive bench lift that basically has been missing all season, the Bulls' reserves scoring among the fewest in the league.

Is there a Seventh Man of the Year award?

Alex Caruso recovered from his foot issue, but then took his Covid turn. But once he returns, he figures to resume that sixth man role, though more with defense. White started six games, but he returned to the bench with Ball's return from his Covid. And hasn't missed a beat, or barely any shots.

"He has the mentality of what can I do to help the group; it's all about what's best for the team. Coby played really good as a starter," noted Donovan. "But then, ‘We're going to bring Lonzo back and you come off the bench,' It's, ‘OK, I'll figure it out. How can I help? What can I do to help the group?'"

Though there was a bit of a concern. For the Bulls, it was Washington's 51 percent shooting and again a massive 60 inside points. And for me yet another indicator of the end of the NBA as we know it.

It came late in the game after Dosunmu was cited twice in a row for feet shuffling travels when he took off on drives. So after the second, as Dosunmu told it afterward and Beal confirmed, Beal—and yes with the Wizards trailing 116-103 with about seven minutes left—decided he could help Dosunmu with his turnover problems.

Now, the game is still going on and, cough, the Wizards are getting the wizard kicked out of them.

"After the travel – the play before I scored – he was like ‘Just go deliberately. Deliberately go one way and then just get into your shot. Don't think about it, just take it and drive and get to your spot.' The next play I did it on him," Dosunmu said. "And then he was like: ‘I didn't say do it on me, I just said do it in the future.'"

Media members got a nice laugh; cute story.

Michael Jordan wasn't laughing, Larry Bird wasn't laughing, Bill Russell wasn't laughing. If they were coming through the door, they were not going to be happy.

Beal is a great player and seems to be a decent person. He played for Donovan in college, and Donovan raves about him. OK, Billy does about everyone. Still, it's real for Beal.

We know about the AAU culture and how much these guys play against one another growing up, and the frequency of changing teams in the last decade and the wine parties on the court after the final buzzer. But, seriously, during the game when you're losing and the kid is having a big night? Often against you! Let me recall if I remember the times Jordan was helping opponents beat him.

"He's a really talented young player," Beal said in his post game remarks according to Washington media. "He just had his jersey retired with Illinois. That's a huge accomplishment. What he meant to Champaign and everybody down there, that meant a lot. To see his run and see the love he received from there, that was pretty cool. I'm a fan of his. I hope he does well."

This in many ways is becoming the most unexpected of seasons for the Bulls. Do these other guys just think they cannot win? You know, if you can't beat them….

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

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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