Observations: DeRozan explosion, Ball’s revenge fuel Bulls win originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls completed a two-game sweep of a Staples Center back-to-back with a 121-103 rout of the Lakers Monday night.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The disparity between Tony Bradley and Nikola Vučević’s offensive skill sets was glaringly on display early. Bradley racked up two turnovers in the game’s first two-and-a-half minutes — both mishandling pocket passes after the Lakers double-teamed Bulls’ ball-handlers — and had a pass from DeMar DeRozan phase clean through his hands and out of bounds (the giveaway was unjustly charged to DeRozan). He also missed a rolling dunk.

Even when Vučević isn’t shooting well, his soft hands and facilitating acumen on the short-roll is both an essential element of the Bulls’ offense, and a pressure alleviant for DeRozan and LaVine. That doesn’t appear to be Bradley’s game, but the Bulls must make do until their All-Star center returns.

2. Still, the Bulls twice threatened to run away with this one in the first half, building a 14-point lead in the closing minutes of the first quarter and a 15-point advantage in the waning moments of the second. But bouts of offensive stagnance, and Russell Westbrook (19 first-half points) scoring flurries, at the close of both periods kept Los Angeles within striking distance. The Bulls led 33-25 at the end of the first quarter, and 57-48 at the halftime break, but both deficits could have been more.

3. DeRozan and Zach LaVine combined for 39 of the Bulls’ 57 first-half points, buoying the offense with some scalding-hot shooting. Through two quarters, DeRozan had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting (2-for-4 from deep), while LaVine had 17 points and made five of nine 3-point attempts.

In an intriguing wrinkle, the Bulls deployed DeRozan and LaVine together in screen-and-roll on multiple occasions, limiting the Lakers’ ability to double-team either as ball-handlers. Those actions produced some clean looks.

4. By night’s end, DeRozan not only had his fifth 30-point outing of the season, but a new season-high with 38 on typically efficient 15-for-23 shooting. His infernal shotmaking only intensified in the second half (when he scored 16 points on 7-for-9), with this gorgeous up-and-under to put the Bulls ahead by 23 the most dazzling highlight.

“He (LaVine) was trying to force me to get 40 tonight, and I told him I was tired,” DeRozan quipped postgame.

In the Bulls’ two-game Los Angeles sweep of the Lakers and Clippers, DeRozan averaged 36.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5 rebounds, shooting 69.2 percent from the field, 3-for-6 from 3-point range and 16-for-17 from the foul line. Home cooking at its finest.

And for the tenth game in 14 tries, DeRozan and LaVine (26) each cleared 20 points; they now rank third and seventh in the NBA in scoring, respectively.

5. Anthony Davis didn’t score his first bucket until the Lakers’ final possession of the first quarter, and was stuck on 2 points for most of the second before closing the first half with a five-point spurt to enter the break with 7 points and four shot attempts. Operating at a severe size disadvantage, the Bulls did well to deny Davis the ball and send timely double-teams to keep him on his heels.

The Lakers’ star racked up 13 points in the third, but was ejected after picking up a technical late in the period. He scored 20 points on nine field-goal attempts in 28 minutes, another success story for the Bulls’ defense.

6. This one can safely be called a revenge game for Lonzo Ball. Playing against the team that drafted him second overall in the 2017 draft, then included him in the trade for Davis two years later, Ball scored a season-high 27 points on Monday, adding 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and an unconscious 7-for-10 shooting line from 3-point range. Thirteen of those points came as a result of a long-range flurry in the fourth.

And even that gaudy stat line doesn’t encapsulate Ball’s all-encompassing defensive work (including some matchups on Davis) and unselfish greasing of the Bulls’ offensive wheels en route to 31 assists and 20 fastbreak points as a team.

7. Alex Caruso started for the second game in a row and continued to bring it defensively, on the glass and as a transition playmaker. But his most memorable highlight of the evening came following the first stoppage of the game, when the Lakers played a tribute video to his four seasons in Los Angeles. 

Caruso, who drew a standing ovation during lineup introductions, went to center court to acknowledge the crowd, and got a dap and hug from LeBron James (who missed his seventh consecutive game with an abdominal strain).

8. Derrick Jones Jr. again saw run as an uber-small reserve center, and fared well in what projected to be a difficult matchup. Though he picked up five fouls in 16 minutes, Jones Jr. scored 13 points on 6-for-7 shooting, including three and-one layups. He looked comfortable on rim-runs in screen-and-roll and transition at the offensive end, and brought droves of length, athleticism and switchability defensively. He was particularly disruptive in his possessions matched with Davis, who struggled to find proper positioning because of Jones Jr.’s work.

9. Coby White made his season debut after being sidelined for five months rehabbing a torn labrum sustained during the offseason. The third-year guard finished with 11 minutes, keeping to Donovan’s pregame vow of 10-to-18 ticks for White, but went scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting, pulling down one rebound. The rust was apparent, but Donovan said postgame he was happy to get him into a game after all this time.

10. This was as complete a performance as the Bulls have posted all season, and featured some aesthetically pleasing play. They outshot the Lakers 15-for-34 (44.1 percent) to 6-for-32 (18.8 percent) from 3-point range, matching a season-high for 3s made in a game. They passed crisply, ran swiftly, shot sharply and defended disruptively, even outsourcing the Lakers 54-40 in the paint.

That the Bulls are now 2-1 on a grueling West Coast swing without Vučević makes a quality win all the more impressive.

“I think we are one of the top teams in the NBA,” Ball said. “Obviously we still got a long way to go, a lot to improve on. But we’re moving in the right direction.”

Next up for the Bulls: A trip to Portland to face the 7-8 Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

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