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Bulls veteran forward DeMar DeRozan returns to save the day

DeRozan has owned the fourth quarter all season, and in the victory over the Lakers, it was no different. After spending the last few games in the health and safety protocols, DeRozan shook off the rust for 19 fourth-quarter points to sink the Lakers 115-110.

Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan reacts after scoring against the Lakers Sunday.
Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan reacts after scoring against the Lakers Sunday.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

DeMar DeRozan knows all the nicknames.

“King of the Fourth’’ and “D-Money’’ are cute and all, but DeRozan isn’t new to crunch time in an NBA game.

“I’m sure I’ve had some type of success, whether it was fourth quarter or late in the game, last four or five minutes of the game,’’ DeRozan said when discussing his career.

DeRozan wasn’t wrong.

In Toronto, he had big-shot moments, and that trend continued the last few seasons in San Antonio.

But not like this.

Not like he has showcased in his first 28 games as a Bull.

DeRozan entered the game Sunday night against the Lakers leading the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (7.7 points) and only added to his legend, scoring 19 points in the fourth to help the Bulls hold off the Lakers 115-110.

He finished with 38 points and went 16-for-17 from the free-throw line.

“I just attribute it to my hard work, honestly,’’ DeRozan said. “I’m a big fan of boxing, and I love watching a lot of guys figure out the fight early and kind of dominate later in the fight. They call it the championship rounds in boxing.

‘‘I’m kind of big into that mentality late in games and understand that’s where it gets harder.

“So for me, figuring out ways to make it easier on myself and on my teammates, that’s the mentality I have late in the game, and it’s been helpful for me and my teammates.’’

And it’s a big reason why the Bulls are 18-10.

“He was incredible,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “Pretty amazing what he did, being out, missing games. … His mental toughness, his heart, it was pretty amazing what he did.’’

Anthony Davis (knee) was out for the Lakers, who also were without coach Frank Vogel.

The Bulls, who lost 10 players to the protocols the last few weeks and had two games postponed, were finally starting to get players back.

DeRozan was one of them.

So while there were some rough moments, as expected, the teams actually didn’t play a bad brand of basketball in the first quarter. Turnovers were an issue for the Lakers, as they lost possession six times in the first, but turnovers have been an issue for Los Angeles all season.

The Bulls struggled from three-point range (2-for-9), but shot 50% from the field in the first quarter and actually controlled the tempo with a 28-22 lead.

Both teams seemed to settle in as the back-and-forth commenced.

If the first three quarters featured the teams trying to find a rhythm with a lot of new faces and lineups, the fourth quarter was about trading knockout punches.

Whether it was Coby White’s emphatic slam early or DeRozan being that fourth-quarter monster, the entertainment factor jumped way up.

So did the heart palpitations for the United Center crowd.

DeRozan made a 20-footer with 52.6 seconds left to give the Bulls a one-point lead, and after a miss by Russell Westbrook, DeRozan hit two clutch free throws with 15.6 seconds left.

Down three, the Lakers called a timeout and got the ball to Carmelo Anthony for a long three-pointer. He missed, as did Wayne Ellington off the offensive rebound.

Lonzo Ball grabbed the rebound, was fouled and iced the game with both free throws.

“Very impressive,’’ Bulls center Nikola Vucevic said of DeRozan’s outing. “It shows the type of player he is. DeMar is a hell of a player. He really took over.”