WASHINGTON — The Bulls’ “big three” of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are like the watched pot that never boils. Just getting them on the court at the same time has been a chore.
But Friday night provided a glimmer of hope that the vaunted core might actually turn into a thing. LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn started for the first time this season. And after a slow start, a big second half propelled the Bulls to a 101-92 victory over the Wizards at Capital One Arena.
LaVine, still hampered by a bum ankle that had him restricted to 30 minutes of playing time, led the way with 24 points — 19 of them in the second half. Markkanen added 14 points and 14 rebounds and Dunn had 13 points and eight assists.
“We played good,” LaVine said. “We’re trying to figure out our spots and when to attack and when to be aggressive, because there’s one ball out there. We’re all very talented scorers. But I think we played it really good, and as long as we got the win, that’s all that matters. We’ll move forward. We’ll see how we keep playing it.”
Against a struggling Wizards team playing without all-star guard John Wall (sore left heel), the Bulls had a strong supporting cast. While LaVine (five points) and Markkanen (seven) struggled in the first half, rookie Wendell Carter Jr. scored 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds. Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday added 10 points to give the Bulls six players in double figures.
But as the foundation of the rebuild, LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn commanded the attention. This was the first time all three had started since March 11 of last season.
And after an unimpressive first half, the Bulls found a bit of a rhythm with the three of them on the floor in the third quarter, with LaVine’s aggression leading the way. At one point, LaVine (11) and Markkanen (three) combined for 14 straight points, with Dunn assisting on a three-point shot for each as the Bulls broke from a 51-all tie to take a 65-60 lead.
“I thought we got open looks when they were out there together,” coach Jim Boylen said. “The defense has to honor Lauri. They’ve got to be careful of Dunn. And they’ve got to bring two to him sometimes.
“So I think when you have good players like that, people know. And they’re prepared for it. But it’s hard to stop three guys. Maybe you can stop two. Maybe they felt Zach didn’t get off in the first half [five points on 1-for-3 shooting]. But it’s hard to hold a guy down when you play the right way. And I thought our team played the right way.”
LaVine sparked the third-quarter surge with three three-pointers and 11 points. After the Wizards (13-23) cut a 10-point lead to five in the final minute, LaVine drove from the wing and converted a three-point play to clinch it at 99-91 with 33 seconds left.
“I got a little bit more aggressive,” LaVine said. “In the first quarter, we were getting good shots and good movement — we just missed a lot of them. So second half, I got more aggressive. We took the game over. We made some big stops. But the main thing is, we’re just learning how to win.”