Late meltdown dooms Bulls, but this game was all about Zach vs. Zion

Zach LaVine and Zion Williamson put on a show in the Pelicans’ victory, and now the attention turns to a possible showdown in the dunk contest.

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Pelicans rookie phenom Zion Williamson and Bulls guard Zach LaVine didn’t disappoint in their first matchup.

Each put together an eye-opening highlight reel at the United Center on Wednesday night.

The Bulls’ reserves suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown, allowing the Pelicans to come back from a 23-point deficit to win 127-125. But this game was all about LaVine and Williamson, with the real showdown still on hold.

Will LaVine — a two-time NBA Slam-Dunk champion — come out of semi-retirement and defend his dusty crown against Williamson when All-Star Weekend comes to Chicago in February?

“I knew that question was coming,’’ Williamson said.

A healthy Williamson undoubtedly will be asked to participate, and LaVine has hinted that he has been in the lab working on some material just in case.

Until that comes together, however, Wednesday will have to do.

LaVine led the Bulls with 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting, attacking the Pelicans at the rim as well as shooting 4-for-7 from three-point range. Not to be outdone, Williamson, in his second game, scored 29 points on 12-for-13 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and had four assists.

The difference? LaVine was a plus-14 and helped the Bulls build a 107-86 lead heading into the fourth quarter. That’s when it all fell apart.

The Bulls’ second- and third-teamers were outscored 27-10 to start the fourth quarter. Down two with 7.3 seconds left, the Bulls (0-2) had a chance to tie or go for the win, but they never got a clean look at the basket.

After the game, Bulls coach Jim Boylen was asked about Williamson.

“I was amazed with his body control for a guy that big,’’ Boylen said. “I was amazed at moments when it looked like he wasn’t going to get to the rim, and he did.’’

Remembering the showdown

Williamson really had only one opportunity to go at Bulls rookie guard Coby White last season, when Williamson was at Duke and White was at rival North Carolina.

Williamson only lasted the opening seconds of the first meeting, blowing out his sneaker and injuring his knee. He then faced UNC in the ACC tournament and put on a show in a Duke victory, scoring 31 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

White scored 11 for the Tar Heels in that loss but showed that his ability to push the pace was NBA-ready.

“I remember Coach [Mike Krzyzew-ski] is like, ‘If we score, it doesn’t matter, Coby is pushing it,’ ’’ Williamson said. “Man, for my second game back [from injury], that was a fast-tempo game. I was kind of tired, like, in the first three minutes, but I battled through it, and it was a tough win.’’

Still ailing

Wendell Carter Jr. missed his second preseason game with a bruised tailbone. But at least there’s a clearer timetable for his return.

Boylen said Carter participated in the morning shootaround and was expected to practice Thursday. Barring setbacks, the hope was to have him available Friday on the road against the Pacers.

His ‘Airness’

Williamson signed his shoe deal with Nike under the Michael Jordan brand this offseason, so he obviously was excited to play under the six banners that Jordan helped raise.

“Yeah, this building is obviously special because this man won six rings here — not all six of them here — but he won six banners,’’ Williamson said. “Proud to be part of the Jordan family, so it’s an honor to be able to play on this court.’’

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