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Bulls dominant in beating the Rockets; no late-game heroics needed

Thanks to a season-high 66 points from the Bulls’ bench, DeMar DeRozan could leave his cape at home for a night. That doesn’t mean his game still wasn’t opening eyes.

Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) celebrates with teammate Lonzo Ball (2) after making a basket while being fouled.
Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (11) celebrates with teammate Lonzo Ball (2) after making a basket while being fouled.
Paul Beaty/AP

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic wasn’t merely sticking up for a former college teammate; he was preaching.

Vucevic was explaining why Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan’s skills have been somewhat glossed over and disrespected through the years and why his former USC teammate never has been considered one of the NBA’s elite players.

‘‘In Toronto, they were one of the best teams in the league for a long time,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘In the playoffs, it was tough for them at times because they ran into the best player in the world in LeBron [James] for years. There were some people unfairly going at [the Raptors] for losing. I think it was unfair because they just happened to run into a guy that at that time was too dominant.

‘‘It is what it is. Media and people have their views on certain players. I think the NBA and the players know how good DeMar is and what he brings to the table. I think at the end of the day that’s all he cares for.’’

That and winning, which DeRozan again helped the Bulls do Monday against the Rockets.

After scoring 19 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter in a victory Sunday against the Lakers, his follow-up wasn’t as necessary.

Thanks to a season-high 66 points from the Bulls’ bench, as well as a Rockets team that had crashed back to reality after a hot streak a few weeks ago, DeRozan didn’t need any fourth-quarter heroics. He still scored 26 points, however, in the Bulls’ 133-118 victory.

It was a relaxing night for DeRozan, who entered the game fifth in the NBA in scoring at 26.8 points per game but led the league in fourth-quarter scoring at 8.2 points.

‘‘I mean, you guys have seen it all year,’’ Vucevic said of DeRozan’s game. ‘‘When he gets to his spot, there’s no stopping him. Analytics got too involved in the game of basketball, and that’s what happens.

“One of the reasons people were hating on DeMar’s game [is] because everyone is shooting threes. I’m not totally against [analytics], but I think they have too big of a part.

‘‘At the end of the day, if a player is really, really good at something, like [DeRozan] is at shooting that mid-range [shot], you can’t take that away from him to shoot threes. Why would you not let him shoot it? Find a way to make it work with him and the players around him. I think that’s where things have gotten confused. Teams are trying to change players rather than make it work with the players they have.’’

That’s not an issue for coach Billy Donovan, who has continued to mix and match rotations from his short-handed roster and still is getting stellar results, with the Bulls now 19-10.

That was on display early against the Rockets.

With a starting lineup of Javonte Green, DeRozan, Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, the Bulls got off to a fast start, even with Caruso leaving the game with a sprained left foot. They led 35-26 after the first quarter and 73-54 at halftime.

The only suspense at the United Center after that was how big the Bulls could make the lead, as well as updates from the Vikings-Bears game.

One of those went well.

‘‘I give those [bench] guys a lot of credit,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘They provided a huge lift on both ends of the floor. It’s good seeing their hard work get rewarded.’’

Coby White scored a season-high 24 points, Alfonzo McKinnie added 16 and Tyler Cook chipped in 11.