Bulls win fourth straight as DeMar DeRozan carries the load with 40
Life without key players — now including Zach LaVine — continued for the Bulls on Monday, but so did the MVP campaign of DeRozan, who has now scored 35-plus points in a career-best six straight games.
Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan believes there’s a “sunny island’’ in his future — and not the kind many players fly off to when their postseason runs end.
No, DeRozan’s paradise scenario is different. Guard Alex Caruso is playing defense like his usual self, his wrist surgery a distant memory. Guard Lonzo Ball is pushing the action in transition, his knee at 100%. Forward Patrick Williams is back to guarding opponents’ best scoring wing, also fully recovered from wrist surgery. And the discomfort in guard Zach LaVine’s knee is solved, allowing him to do what he does best: soaring and scoring.
DeRozan can see it all just over the horizon — although some days it feels more distant than others.
The short-handed Bulls continued doing all they could to carry the load for injured teammates, with DeRozan accounting for 40 points Monday in a 120-109 victory over the Spurs at the United Center. It was DeRozan’s third game of 40 points or more and his sixth straight with 35 or more — a career high.
The Bulls played their 11th game this season without LaVine, improving to 6-5 in those games. DeRozan’s mind was largely on LaVine’s visit to Los Angeles to meet with a specialist, trying to determine why his left knee keeps swelling and hurting.
“It’s tough not playing with Zach,’’ DeRozan said. “It’s something we’ve got to weather. His health is the most important thing, him just figuring out what’s what for the long run. As bad as I know he wants to play now, he’s got to take care of himself first and foremost.
“We’re going to get to that point where we’re all healthy and we have everybody full strength, but the important thing is getting everyone healthy.”
Coach Billy Donovan said the Bulls’ medical staff is convinced there’s no major structural damage in the latest imaging on LaVine’s knee, but LaVine is seeking a second opinion to confirm.
“Zach obviously had an [anterior cruciate ligament repaired in 2017], so there’s a doctor there [in Los Angeles] that he obviously trusts and wants to go see that knows his knee pretty intimately because he actually did surgery on him before he ever came to Chicago,” Donovan said. “The more collaboration with people — our people here and Zach, the people he trusts — is a good place to start. It probably makes the player feel very, very comfortable when there’s a lot of really smart people in a room talking.”
Donovan also needs smart people playing for him, and none has been smarter this season than DeRozan, who scored 19 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter against the Spurs after the Bulls (37-21) entered the quarter down 89-83, looking slow in their on-the-ball defense and inconsistent on offense.
“It’s amazing because it’s not only to score at the level he does, it’s the IQ,” Donovan said. “He generated a lot of offense — him basically making basketball plays.
“There were struggles for our team — really on both ends — but he’s just biding his time, and knows what he has to do.”
DeRozan’s six straight games of at least 35 points and 50% shooting tied him with Wilt Chamberlain.
“I can’t believe how efficient he is night in and night out,” Donovan said. “It’s mind-boggling to me.”