The 1-2 scoring punch of Zach LaVine and Coby White was on display for the second game in a row as the Bulls won their second straight preseason game with a 124-103 win over Oklahoma City.
Everyone knows a team needs more than one star to become elite. The Bulls the last few seasons have had one, Zach LaVine, and we know with some other complications where that generally leads. But when you have two, oh say, like Isiah and Joe D, KC and Sam, Frazier and Barnett, Gus and DJ, Cheeks and Toney, and, of course, Steph and Klay, well then you're talking. And winning.
Zach and Coby may be breaking into the conversation.
The Bulls Band of Backcourt Brothers were brilliant again Wednesday as the Bulls defeated the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder 124-103 for a 2-1 preseason record. The Bulls play a final preseason game in Oklahoma City Friday and then open their 2020-21 regular season Dec. 23 in the United Center against the Atlanta Hawks.
Which will be a fitting test to begin the season against an Atlanta team that had one of the biggest offseasons with the additions of Kris Dunn, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Tony Snell and Rajon Rondo to join another All-Star guard Trae Young. Are they ready for the Bulls' Slash Brothers?
"I think we could be really good," White said after the game via video. "We've got a lot of talent, so I think we could be really good as a backcourt. But also, we've just got to keep getting better. This is our first time really getting a chance to play together (first starts together). We're still learning each other and trying to feel each other out."
It looks (and feels) very good as White had 18 of his game high 27 points in the third quarter when the Bulls broke away following LaVine's graceful and fluid 20 first half points among his smooth 24 points. The tag team combination led a dominant effort against an admittedly weak Thunder team. After the results of recent seasons, the Bulls cannot diminish any opponents. But with White breaking through only late last season just before the virus closure, this has been the first time the two high scorers have been able to work together.
It's been thrilling to see with both dominating the Bulls offense, White averaging 20.7 points and 58 percent three point shooting in 27.6 minutes per game and LaVine averaging 19.7 points and 47 percent three-point shooting in 25 minutes per game. Though Bulls coach Billy Donovan continues to emphasize the total team concept and Wednesday praised White for his first half playmaking and LaVine for his offense within the system, both have stood far above their teammates in the willingness and ability to score and activate the offense.
The Bulls got another good game from rookie Patrick Williams, who drew his first start as Donovan said he was experimenting with combinations. Williams scored in double figures for the third straight game with 13, but again did most of his scoring in the second half when he wasn't playing with the regulars. While talented and with a surprisingly mature game, he tends to defer offensively.
Both Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter again were erratic offensively. Markkanen shot four of 15 and two of nine on threes. He's 10-33 in the three games and five of 19 on threes, though he played more ambitiously Wednesday with several drives to the basket and dunk attempts. Markkanen had 11 points and took some turns playing center. Carter had six points and missed his trio of threes, now one of 12 in the three games on three pointers. After missing those first three, Carter turned down three open such attempts to pass the ball. He did his scoring diving to the basket.
Otto Porter Jr. coming off the bench moved fluidly and had eight points and a team high 12 rebounds. Chandler Hutchison with several driving dunks added 11 points. The Bulls shot 54 percent, many from mid range as they were 11 of 33 on threes. Though the lineups and rotations, conceded Donovan, remained complicated because of the illness/injury absence of potential regulars like Thad Young, Garrett Temple, Denzel Valentine and Tomas Satoransky. It's unclear who will be ready for the opener.
But for the Bulls it was another good warmup, albeit against a roster of players unknown to most other than close family members. The Thunder mostly behind guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stayed close in the first quarter against LaVine's sleek 16 points, trailing 30-26. Veteran Al Horford was effective in the second quarter. The Bulls began dominating in the third quarter with the driving of Markkanen and dunking of Hutchison, leading 59-46 at halftime and by 25 after three with White's big third quarter.
"Zach and Coby shot the ball well," Donovan noted. "I thought we generated a lot of really good, open looks. I think our guys are getting more and more comfortable playing against some other teams with the reads and the cutting and the moving. Coby did a really good job in the first half of just managing the game. And then it broke open for him in the second half. Zach getting 20 in the first half, I think he did it within the framework of what we were trying to do. He's going to be able to do it on his own at times. But we also found him and made the game a little bit easier for him as well."
Though the game never is easy, with LaVine and White scoring that way the game should be a lot more interesting for the Bulls. LaVine, especially, is scoring much easier this season with a sidekick talent like White. Both have the shooting range to open the floor and the drive to get to the basket. Donovan's plan appears to be giving them ample opportunity. They could combine for 50 points per game this season with their abilities.
"I think we can be really good," agreed LaVine, who also made several excellent defensive plays. "Obviously offensively, I think we're very potent. We just have to work on the main thing, (which) is winning games. And then you get the recognition from that. If you don't win, then you're always going to get thrown to the back and not noticed. As long as we contribute to winning, I think we're going to be fine."
Westbrook and Beal, Lowry and VanVleet, Kyrie and Dinwiddie, Kemba and Marcus. Dame and CJ, CP3 and Book, Jamal and Gary Harris. Here come Zach and Coby.