Zach LaVine scores 40 as Bulls take advantage of short-handed Thunder
The Bulls have played down to short-handed competition before, specifically the first two games out of the All-Star break. With a new-look starting group, however, LaVine & Co. made sure that didn’t happen Tuesday night.
Every game doesn’t need to be close.
After all, with 34 regular-season games left, fingernails grow back only so quickly.
So on a night that the Thunder limped into the United Center severely short-handed, it was about time the home team treated a visitor rudely.
Thanks to Zach LaVine’s third 40-point game of the season and the new-look starting lineup, which put the Thunder in a huge first-quarter hole, the Bulls (18-20) won their second consecutive game, beating coach Billy Donovan’s former team 123-102 on Tuesday night.
“The guy was unbelievable,’’ Donovan said. “He scored 40 points in  minutes. And listen, I don’t want to get into the short-handed stuff because we’ve got to play to a certain standard because we’re no different than any other team. We’ve been short-handed, too. … Everybody is dealing with this, so for me it’s not necessarily who’s playing for a team or not playing; it’s how we’re playing.’’
The Bulls made sure the ball was moving, but LaVine and Lauri Markkanen also got into a flow early.
“You want to get your two best scorers going, and we did that,’’ guard Tomas Satoransky said. “It opens up everything. We were all running really well right from the beginning, and when that happens, guys have good games.’’
With a nice mix of the familiar formula of LaVine playing aggressively but efficiently (15-for-20 from the field) to go along with the new-look starting lineup (Thaddeus Young and Satoransky in for Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White), the Bulls appeared to be poised to end the rematch with the Thunder (17-23) quickly.
Not only was LaVine on fire in the first quarter, but the entire starting unit was in sync. It was just another reminder of why Donovan made the change after the loss to the Heat: He was looking to get his team off to quicker starts.
Satoransky and Young helped that process along. They combined for nine of the 12 first-quarter assists, getting the Bulls out in front 42-28.
Donovan didn’t enjoy the bench unit spitting that lead back up in the second quarter, but the defense made sure that the Thunder would be put back in a corner for the second half, holding Oklahoma City to 16 points in the third quarter.
The big change was that Carter was inserted back in with the starters to help combat the size of Moses Brown, and he more than did his job.
“Moses Brown had, I think, six offensive rebounds in the first half,’’ Donovan said. “I wanted to start the same way [in the third] with the same group, but just putting Wendell out there against him as a bigger body.’’
If there was a cloud in the win — and a small cloud at that — it was rookie Patrick Williams not being able to follow up his career-high 23 points on Sunday against the Raptors with another strong performance. Instead, he scored two points on 1-for-9 shooting and grabbed only three rebounds.
A collision with the rookie wall?
Tough to say, especially with the entire league in uncharted territory by playing so many games in this second half, let alone this rookie class having to deal with it.
“The thing you always worry about with young players is the mental fatigue,’’ Donovan said. “Certainly that’s going to be the biggest challenge, just with the loaded-up schedule on the back end. He hasn’t experienced anything like this at all in his life.’’