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The Wine & Gold return home for a one-game respite – a Wednesday night rematch with the Bulls – before closing out another tough road stretch, a three-games-in-four-nights trip on the other side.
The Cavaliers are coming off a disappointing loss in the Motor City – falling behind by 23 points in the first quarter before rallying back to take the lead in the fourth, only to see the Pistons ice the deal late, with Josh Jackson grabbing his own missed free throw and scoring on a backbreaking layup in the closing moments. The loss put the Cavaliers four full games behind Chicago for the East’s final Play-In spot.
Playing again without Zach LaVine, the Bulls won their second straight on Monday night, dropping a hot Celtics squad and holding their second straight opponent under the century mark. Nikola Vucevic had another strong outing for Chicago and Coby White sealed the deal with a pair of late free throws.
The first of those two opponents the Bulls held under 100 was the Cavaliers – who fell on Saturday night in Chicago to even the season series.
The Cavs – who’ll be without J.B. Bickerstaff, out with personal reasons on Wednesday – took the first meeting on March 24 in the Windy City, but four days ago, Vucevic had another big night and Cleveland was plagued once again by the third quarter blues.
With their recent two-game win streak, the Bulls improved to 5-9 since acquiring Vucevic in a monster deal at the Deadline. And even with the subpar record, the two-time All-Star himself has been excellent.
Acquired from Orlando the day after Cleveland knocked off the Bulls in Chicago, Vucevic is having easily the best offensive season of his career – averaging 24.2ppg with career-bests in three-point and free throw shooting while playing in all 58 games this season.
In the 14 games since being acquired by Chicago, the 10th-year man from USC has been equally good, topping the 20-point mark in 10 of his 14 appearances – including a 25-point effort on Saturday night against Cleveland – going 10-for-17 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from deep, adding seven boards, five assists and a pair of steals.
Jarrett Allen tallied his second straight double-double in that matchup – a relatively quiet 10-point, 11-rebound game.
On Monday night in Detroit, Allen struggled for the first time in four games since returning from a concussion suffered in late March – finishing with five points and five boards while trying to slow down impressive Pistons rookie Isaiah Stewart.
Allen would love to celebrate his 23rd birthday with a bounce-back on Wednesday and he’s historically done well against Chicago, netting double-figure scoring in eight of the last nine meetings, with three double-doubles in the mix.
Darius Garland is obviously a quick learner, and he’s learning that the key to NBA success is consistency.
Still only a 21-year-old sophomore in the Association, Garland is showing why he was the No. 5 overall pick in 2019. Excluding a six-point clunker to open the month against Philly, Garland is averaging 21.4 points over his next eight games, shooting 48 percent from the floor and 41 percent from deep over that stretch – tying a career-high in assists (12 vs. tonight’s opponent) and setting new scoring mark (37 points at SAS).
In terms of consistency, Garland scored 22 points in each of his two outings against the Bulls this year, going a combined 17-of-41 from the floor, including 8-for-14 from long-range, averaging 10.5 assists per.
With Zach LaVine out of the lineup, Coby White has had to pick up some of the offensive slack – something he found quite difficult with rookie Isaac Okoro hounding him on Saturday night.
In that contest, the man drafted two spots after Garland finished with just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting, including 1-of-6 from deep.
White had a nice bounce-back performance on Monday night in Boston – finishing with 19 points and seven assists in the win.