Big-body Bulls hammer Pacers, led by Nikola Vucevic’s 32 points
While many NBA teams are focused on a small-ball lineup, Billy Donovan is going the other direction with certain rotations. Is the Bulls coach being an innovator? Nope, simply playing to his roster’s strengths as Indiana found out on Tuesday.
Billy Donovan isn’t looking to revolutionize the game of basketball.
There’s no middle finger being held up at analytics or some diabolical plan to turn back the clock to the days when big men methodically roamed the paint of NBA arenas.
It’s much simpler for the Bulls coach.
“I’ve got to play, we’ve got to play, to the strengths of our team,’’ Donovan said very matter-of-factly when asked about the jumbo-sized lineups that he continues to throw on the floor in any given rotation.
And right now the strength of the team is Nikola Vucevic. All 6-11 of him.
The Pacers found that out Tuesday, when the key piece in the March 25 trade-deadline deal scored 32 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and handed out five assists. No word on whether Vucevic also drove the team bus to the airport after the 113-97 victory.
But the bigger picture of the Bulls’ back-to-back wins at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the first time since it opened is the effect it has on the standings.
The Bulls (21-28) now have pulled to within a game of the Pacers in the Eastern Conference, as the two teams are each looking to move up. The safe place to be is the No. 6 seed or higher. The play-in scenario is the No. 7 seed hosting the No. 8 seed, with the loser playing the winner of the No. 9 vs. No. 10 matchup.
If Vucevic and Zach LaVine can do what they did against the Pacers — with LaVine adding 19 points — the feeling is that the No. 10 seed should be in the rearview mirror sooner rather than later.
“Zach needs to be who he is and ‘Vooch’ needs to be who he is, and as long as we’re generating good shots and we’re efficient with what we’re doing offensively, I really don’t care who gets the shots,’’ Donovan said of how he wants his two alphas to coexist. “And I think those guys would say the same thing. For as great of a scorer as Zach is and for as great of a scorer as ‘Vooch’ is, these guys are team guys, and want to win.’’
That was evident through the first two quarters, as the 13-point lead at halftime was not only earned, it was taken.
Even without Daniel Theis (personal reasons), the length of Vucevic, Thad Young, Lauri Markkanen and Tomas Satoransky helped the Bulls outrebound the Pacers 28-13, including 8-0 on the offensive glass. That’s why the Bulls went into the locker room with 14 second-chance points, while Indiana had zero.
Obviously not having Domantas Sabonis (left ankle) hampered what the Pacers like to usually do around the basket (point guard Malcolm Brogdon also missed the game), but considering there’s only 23 regular-season games left, winning by any means necessary has to be the mindset for a team when there’s a possible playoff spot on the line.
“Those lineups can be very good for us,’’ Vucevic said of the bigger lineups. “We’re also big men that can still move and can cover a lot of ground, so I think defensively we can take up a lot of space and control the boards. It also gives us an advantage on the offensive glass.
“A lot of teams like to play small nowadays and we have lineups that can do that, but I think with the big lineup so far we’ve been pretty efficient and if we continue to grow as a team it can be very successful for us for sure.’’