Zach LaVine scored 38 points and Wendell Carter Jr. added a season high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds but the Bulls came up just short in Los Angeles, falling to the Lakers 117-115 on Friday night.
Portland Tuesday: Down 20, tied with 4:12 left in the game and then a Zach LaVine winning three with 10.7 seconds left.
Sacramento Wednesday: Trailing by a dozen, down one with 1:34 left, a Tyrese Haliburton off balance killer three with 12 seconds left gives the Kings just enough space to hold off a LaVine three with 3.2 seconds left for the Sacramento win.
Los Angeles Friday: Again trailing by 12, LaVine gets a good look at an 18 footer with 4.7 seconds left to win the game. It's just off and skids out of bounds as the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers survive the Bulls 117-115.
Those nettlesome standings keep getting in the way of the aesthetics. The Bulls have been putting on some great shows. They just have to work on those endings a bit more.
"I'm going to go out there and try to help our team win. That's my mentality," said LaVine, who led the Bulls with 38 points, including 19 in a blazing first quarter along with a team high six assists and zero turnovers. "I'd rather go down swinging than striking out with the bat on my shoulder.
Zach LaVine scored 38 points on 14-of-22 shooting and dished out six assists in Chicago's Friday night loss to the Lakers
"It just shows that we have some fight in us," said LaVine. "We went from being blown out our first couple of games to now being in a lot, and I think it shows growth in us being able to bounce back after some tough losses instead of just giving up. We've beaten some tough teams. And we've also lost to some really bad teams. I think we have to be a lot more consistent, play like this more often than not to give ourselves a chance to win more games. Like, today, yesterday, the game before that, we're in each game until the last shot. That's all you can ask for, give yourself a chance to win. I think if we play harder than the other team, we're going to win more than we lose."
It's progress if not euphoria as the Bulls record fell to 4-6 and 1-2 on this road trip. The Bulls remain in Los Angeles to play the Clippers Sunday afternoon and then return to Chicago Tuesday to meet the Boston Celtics. Perhaps some of the Covid affected players will return then, more likely Lauri Markkanen and Ryan Arcidiacono. Chandler Hutchison and Tomas Satoransky figure to remain out longer after being reported to have contracted the virus, which has been making its way around the NBA in force lately. All-Star Anthony Davis sat out for the Lakers, though with a hip strain.
Which was worth a hip, hip hooray from the Bulls. Though in the end the Lakers prevailed led by LeBron James despite some unexpected bonehead plays down the stretch with 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and Montrezl Harrell off the bench with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
The Bulls countered with a season-high 23 points from an offensively revived Wendell Carter Jr., 15 off the bench from Thad Young and two huge coulda-been-a-hero threes from Garrett Temple in the last two minutes. That second Temple on a clever fake drew the Bulls within 116-115 with 37 seconds left after the Bulls trailed by 12 points, 102-90, with eight minutes left. The Lakers kept delivering haymakers and still led 110-103 on a Markieff Morris three with 3:55 remaining.
But LaVine got a pair of free throws after a James turnover, and then rookie Patrick Williams smothered James in the post, forcing another miss that led to a LaVine driving score. Dennis Schroder countered with a three and one of two free throws after Coby White, having a tough close, stepped out of bounds before a drive. That made it 114-107 Lakers with two minutes left when Temple made the first of his threes as a game saver.
Rookie Patrick Williams found himself matched up against LeBron James for most of the time, including in crunch time.
James missed a three so badly he started chasing it as soon as he shot the ball. Temple rebounded, however, and Young caught a tough pass from White and finished to get the Bulls within 114-112 with 1:32 left. Bulls coach Billy Donovan continued to finish games with his veterans, though this time staying with Williams with Otto Porter out early in the game with back issues.
James out of a Lakers' timeout got an opening right at the rim on a nice play as Schroder screened Williams and James beat White to the basket. But James wide open didn't dunk and his layup rolled off. LaVine missed a short runner, after which James scored and was fouled by Williams. Game over? Not these Bulls, at least not yet.
James missed the three-point play chance free throw leading to Temple's second three in which he faked Alex Caruso and stepped to the left corner for the shot. James then took a head scratching 30-foot three with 20 seconds left, which gave the Bulls the chance to win with the last shot.
Alas, not this time, but what a time they did have.
"Zach got off and around the screen pretty well," said Donovan of that last Bulls shot. "It looked from my view he got off a pretty good look. If he was trapped, we wanted to hit Thad in the middle of the floor (Young was open after screening, but do you really wanting him taking that shot from 22 feet?). If (Zach) could get off the screen and create some space, we wanted him to take the shot."
Zach LaVine has scored 32 points or more in three of his last four games.
Though LaVine missed this one in another excellent game with smart passing to Carter in the second half when the Lakers were double teaming LaVine and again good defense with a pair of steals, Donovan suggested the hurdle the Bulls are clearing is significant. A team that seems to be producing that competitive level it mostly only talked about before.
"We're getting better," said Donovan. "I see improvement. When I go back to the Indiana game or the Atlanta game, both of those games we weren't even in the game. We got hit and before you know it we were down 25 or 30 points, or in some cases 40 points. And our competitive spirit and fight when that happened was really, really poor, really bad. We're doing a better job of that. But that's what great teams do, flat out compete; they get after it and never have to worry about that and what you are worrying about is the execution piece of that."
Donovan, like everyone else, was stunned watching those opening losses. He says it led to something of a team epiphany.
"I remember watching (the film) with the guys," Donovan said. "We were playing Indiana and playing pretty good basketball and maybe we were up six or seven points and it was three possessions where they started to press us and we had three consecutive turnovers. Their bench is going crazy and our guys were like just totally defeated. And it was like in the second quarter. I was amazed at the competitive spirit. I said, ‘You are playing against another team, what do you expect? It's not going to be easy and you are going to have to fight and that is what competition is.' The word compete is to endure together; there was like zero endurance, like zero resiliency, like zero fight back. I said, ‘Listen, the normal NBA game, it's a 23-point swing. We were up 10 in the first half and then we were down by nine, like 19 points; it's going to happen. Just get used to it; it's the NBA.' I remember I stopped the film and said, ‘Guys, we just turned the ball over three times, we did this, this and this wrong and with all that being said, it's a four-point game? Like we're not down by 50; we're down by four points.'
"I give them a lot of credit from the Portland game getting down by 20," said Donovan. "They just kept grinding, and even tonight got down by seven (in the last two minutes). They didn't hang their heads and they kept battling and we got within a possession and we had the ball to go ahead with 11 or 12 seconds to go in the game. What competition is how you have to respond to the adversity and why adversity is good."
These Bulls have known plenty of adversity; perhaps they're finally understanding competition.
"Now I think regardless of if it's a back to back or who we're playing, I think we're coming out ready to play and ready for a fight," said LaVine.
It seemed so to start against the Lakers with LaVine showing his stuff, making all eight of his field goal attempts, driving dunks, threes and three-point plays that no one on the floor could match.
"Just trying to affect the game and help us win," said LaVine. "But I hadn't played in Staples in a couple of years. I felt good out here."
The Bulls led 33-28 after one quarter and then rode White for 10 consecutive points to start the second quarter to take a 43-33 lead, White finishing the quarter with 12 of his 14 points though the Lakers took a 59-58 halftime lead.
Then it was all Carter working a sharp pick and roll with LaVine, taking short jump shots and strong finishes with dunks. It's what the Bulls have been hoping to see from Carter this season after being left out of the offense last season.
Wendell Carter Jr. scored a season-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Chicago's loss to the Lakers
"Just getting in the pocket, making the right reads," said Carter. "I got more aggressive on offense and took my shots. I made a commitment to my team that I will do better because I am gifted, as gifted as I am on defense as I am on offense. I just have to take my shots and I hit them. Sometimes I am the best option and I need to take my shots. I did tonight."
Carter's 12 points and two assists in the third quarter kept the Bulls close as the Lakers ran off 12 straight at one point and seemed ready to take control.
"We just told him, ‘Man, you've got to be aggressive. Sometimes you think too much out there,'" LaVine said. "Wendell's a really smart player. If he doesn't think too much I think he's great."
Donovan continued to mix and match, giving Adam Mokoka a look at James along with Temple and Young and back to Williams. The Bulls got back tied at 88 before the Lakers led 92-88 going into the fourth quarter.
Then again the Lakers seemed ready to take the game with that 12-point fourth quarter lead when Carter slipped to the basket with another LaVine assist, Young finished an offensive rebound for a three-point play, LaVine dunked after a Schroder turnover and it was on right to the end.
"I told Zach at the end with .5 seconds to go, ‘It's easy for you to look at the last shot that took all of about one second to get that shot off and there was another 47 minutes, 59 seconds in the game that we did a lot of other stuff that had nothing to do with that shot,'" said Donovan. "We have to do a better job throughout the course of the game."
You begin to sense that this time they can.