It was the type of summer school Zach LaVine could really embrace.
All-NBA forward Kevin Durant played professor, and the Bulls guard made sure not to miss a minute of class.
Those who know LaVine well have insisted that he returned from the Summer Olympics with Team USA a different player with a new mentality. And on Monday, LaVine credited Durant as a big reason why.
“I tried to shoot with [Durant] every day,’’ LaVine said. “But he didn’t miss one workout, one routine. Every day he got in the gym, he had the same workout after practice. He came early to the gym. His work ethic is second to none. I just tried to attach to that.’’
He did more than stay attached to it; the student beat the teacher in their first meeting after the Olympics.
By being more physical on the defensive end and outscoring the Nets 42-17 in the fourth quarter, the Bulls pulled off one of their more impressive victories of the season, ending Brooklyn’s five-game winning streak 118-95 at the United Center.
Durant had his usual dominant showing with 38 points and 14 rebounds, but thanks to LaVine’s 24-point, zero-turnover performance as well as 28 points from DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls improved to 7-3 and put an end to their two-game losing streak.
“We just got better and better as that second half went on,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “Everybody defensively gave great effort.’’
Some more good news to come out of the latest Bulls performance was they finally understood the part about starting and finishing a game with urgency.
After digging huge holes in the first half of the last three games, the Bulls came out against the Nets on a mission. Well, a four-minute mission.
A Lonzo Ball three-pointer with 7:49 left in the first quarter put the Bulls up by eight quickly. The problem was the early-round flurry gassed out, and Brooklyn reeled the Bulls back in. But there was another gear and run, with the Bulls ending the first quarter up eight.
That back-and-forth set a tempo that would carry through the first three quarters until the Bulls unleashed chaos in the fourth.
As for his relationship with Durant that was built in the Tokyo Olympics, LaVine said he now has further understanding on why Durant could go down as one of the best players of this generation.
“We all looked to him for leadership out there,’’ LaVine said. “Obviously, we made the right decision with that. KD did a little more with his work ethic and showing how hard he plays every day. He didn’t sit out any drills. He didn’t sit out any practices. For the best player to do that, you just have to fall in line.’’
Then you mix that work ethic with his ability to be the best pure scorer in the game at 6-10?
No wonder he was a handful for the home team.
“It’s different because he’s like nobody else,’’ LaVine said. “Defense doesn’t really affect him. And that’s the thing that even talking [earlier Monday], we’re going to play some really good defense on him. And he’s going to shoot some shots over double-teams or contested hands that he really doesn’t see. It’s just his special ability to negate the defense and not let it affect him.’’
Donovan, who coached Durant in Oklahoma City, expected that.
“I’ve always said this about Kevin — I’ve never seen him go into a gym and take a shot that wasn’t a serious shot,’’ Donovan said. “When he steps across the lines, there’s no messing around. He goes in there and works on things he’s going to do in the game.’’