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There were some critical questions facing the Bulls since their worst trip to Oklahoma since scouting JamesOn Curry. Did they have anything in reserve? And could anyone spell Porzingis?
The Bulls did have plenty in reserve with 61 points off the bench led by Garrett Temple’s 21, his most in more than a year. And then there was the sweetest sight in the world for Lauri Markkanen since losing his pair of reindeer gloves, Kristaps Porzingis. Talk about Who’s Your Daddy!
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Markkanen scored 29 points, his season high and second most since the opening game of the 2019-20 season. Zach LaVine at mostly point guard had 10 assists and contributed to as-close-as-the-Bulls-will-get to a late game shut down of Luka Donicic, and the Bulls led almost the entire game in defeating the Dallas Mavericks 117-101.
Lauri Markkanen finished with 29 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the win over Dallas on Sunday.
LaVine scored a season low 10 points on one of eight shooting while Coby White was scoreless for just the second time in his NBA career, the usually high scoring duo combining to shoot one of 13 overall. But LaVine was sparkling with his most assists in a game since his rookie season, three steals, just two turnovers despite being the primary point guard and a starters’ best plus-11 rating.
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One afternoon, they come home from school with a detention slip for ditching the second half of the day and scoring a -22 on their math exam. Utter Disappointment. The next day, however, they’re found staying after school for extra help and scoring better than those smart-aleck kids in their biology class. So proud.
At the end of the 2019-20 season, the Bulls exited their angsty-as-hell phase, which means their learn-from-your-mistakes phase is next. Sure, they’re bound to make a handful of embarrassing blunders throughout the course of this season, but as long as they can prevent history from repeating itself, they should be on the right track.
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What if they can’t? I guess they’ll be living in Arturas Karnisovas basement … I think that is how that works.
• Lauri Markkanen trending in the right direction.
• I’m not ready to make the same “HE’S BACK!” declaration that the Bulls did last night, but I’m also not too far away from doing so either. Markkanen has looked 100 percent rejuvenated under new head coach Billy Donovan. The Finnisher is hitting his 3-pointers at a career-best rate and playing at the rim better than he has in years. He is constantly looking to drive to the hoop and using his elite size to either draw contact or finesse a finish over defenders. Good stuff, but now it is time to be consistent.
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• Markkanen’s big night came with only 10 points from Zach LaVine and 0 points from Coby White. Can he find a way to impact the game at this level while the other two are scoring as well? Also, this was his first double-double of the season, which is a mark he almost averaged during his second season in the league. Can he prove to be a more stable threat on the glass? Again, there is no question this is some of the best basketball we’ve seen from Markkanen in recent years, but he has always been a player that too often hits his strides in waves. The time is now – in a contract year – to show he can always keep the switch turned on.
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“I really thought he made great decisions and he played in my opinion a tremendous floor game where he was balanced, where he had assists, rebounding; he didn’t force anything,” said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. “Really played the right way. He got downhill (eight of eight free throws), he found his teammates. If Zach can keep evolving like that, that’s only going to help our team and make us better. Thad (Young) mentioned it to the guys after the game. He said ‘Coby and Zach, you guys didn’t score, but you played the game the right way that really enhanced and helped us win.’ Those guys are players that require a lot of attention, so it opens up things for other people and when they can play like that it’s just going to help us.”
Young equalled a season high with 15 points and both he and Otto Porter Jr. made seven of 10 shots. Ryan Arcidiacono in just his third game of the season played spirited defense to support the game changing energy of reserve center Daniel Gafford, whose first quarter play was pivotal in rousing a seemingly still suffering Bulls team following that 22-point blown lead overtime loss in Oklahoma City.
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Gafford’s defense with a pair of blocks and causing Dallas played to pause going to the basket midway through the first quarter turned a 16-9 Dallas start into a 27-23 Bulls first quarter lead. Driven by the reserves’ play against a decimated Dallas team with six regulars facing Covid restrictions, the Bulls reserves with a boost from Markkanen hung a 40-point second quarter on the Mavericks that this time led to a 15-point halftime lead the Bulls would not fumble.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle pointed to that first quarter defensive stretch and then Temple’s 15-point second quarter as the turning points for the Bulls victory.
Garrett Temple scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting in Chicago’s win over Dallas.
“The first game I played we got the bench together before the tip off and first game, I told the bench, ‘We can be the best bench in the league because of the experience, the talent we have coming off the bench,'” Temple recalled. “Our team is going to need the bench to play well because we have such a young unit and there’s going to be times where we have to help them out. So a game like today was great to show that. Zach and Coby didn’t have a great shooting night, but obviously Lauri played really well.”
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Yes, Markkanen, who perhaps is under more scrutiny than any Bulls player after his setbacks last season and failure to reach a contract extension. It was Markkanen’s second game back after his Covid quarantine issues and just sixth of the season and third scoring at least 20 points. He exceeded 20 points last season in 10 of 50 games.
“I love Lau,” said Temple. “I love the fact that he’s been so aggressive. That’s been surprising to me. Playing against him in the past, I haven’t seen as many duck ins, as many drives to the basket. He’s been really aggressive on the offensive boards as well. Just his offensive mentality, not just being a standstill, catch-and-shoot three-point guy and occasionally a driver. He’s really been aggressive offensively. And we need him to continue to do that for this team.”
Markkanen has had some of the best games of his career against the more celebrated Porzingis, who is returning unsteadily from yet another knee issue and missed all seven of his threes while scoring 20 points. Markkanen had his coming out party as a pro in his rookie season against Porzingis in New York with 33 points and eight threes in a Bulls win. Supposedly destined for stardom in the wake of performances like that, Markkanen then suffered through injuries, health scares and unsettling coaching decisions.
He started slowly in the first quarter as Donovan faces something of a dilemma with Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the latter with 12 points, seven rebounds and a career high five steals. Neither is particularly emotional nor top rim protectors, two strengths of Gafford. It was his energetic play that seemed to ignite a somewhat ashen start. Though Donovan is charged perhaps primarily this season with analyzing and evaluating Carter and Markkanen. Win, sure, but make sure the franchise can make big decisions regarding the big guys.
Markkanen has been making much more effort to get to the basket, showing some of the fading bank shots that were once a fixture for him. He still flops around at times while taking contact and trying to finish, but he has been more successful this season as he also seems permitted to move from the perimeter.
“I figured they were running me off the line a little bit and I had the lane to drive,” Markkanen observed. “So it was just what the defense gave me and I just tried to be aggressive to get to the rim. And that’s what I was able to do.”