Art of the fourth-quarter knockout, courtesy of Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan
There’s a reason why DeRozan has remained in the MVP talk this season, as the veteran continues carrying a short-handed roster by any means necessary.
There will be a time when Bulls forward DeMar De-Rozan sits back, kicks his feet up and really thinks about what he accomplished in this historic stretch.
That time wasn’t Tuesday.
The NBA may be buzzing over DeRozan scoring at least 35 points and shooting at least 50% from the field over his last six games, tying Wilt Chamberlain for the longest such streak in NBA history. But DeRozan’s mind was mostly on other things — such as keeping the injury-stricken Bulls near the top of the Eastern Conference, where teams are short-handed across the board. The 32-year-old veteran also is keeping an eye on his workload as his minutes per game continue to pile up.
And, as always, he’s focused on the Bulls’ next opponent and how to expose that team’s weaknesses — an art in which DeRozan has become quite disciplined.
“I’m no knockout puncher, but I want to wear you down because I know I can go the length, however long I need to go,” he said.
If he sounds like a boxer, it makes sense. DeRozan is a student of the “sweet science” as much as he’s a student of basketball. When he tells a story of chatting with “Floyd” about setting up opponents, he’s referring to Mayweather, not Tim.
“I remember having a conversation with Floyd about how he approached fights, and for him, it’s about collecting data in the first couple of rounds, about what his opponent likes to do, how he can break him down,” DeRozan said. “I always talk about the championship rounds when it comes to the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th — when you kind of hear your opponent breathing a little bit harder, dropping the hands. That’s the same approach I take with basketball, just picking ’em apart, understanding how the defense is going to play me, the game flow. It’s just me collecting so much data early in the game and trying to pick it apart as the game goes on.”
That system may be why DeRozan, in addition to leading the NBA in scoring this season with 1,509 points and ranking third in points per game with 27.9, also is the leader in fourth-quarter scoring with 431 points, far ahead of second-place Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks, who entered Tuesday with 365.
DeRozan has averaged 38.7 points on 61% shooting over his last six games, with the Bulls going 4-2 in those games. Maybe more impressive, he has kept his teammates involved, with 5.5 assists per game in that span.
“I think that speaks even more to his greatness,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “The fact that, ‘OK, I’m on this incredible roll.’ Instead of trying to take on two guys, it’s like, ‘OK, someone else is open. Let me find the open man.’ ”
Just the idea puts a smile on DeRozan’s face.
“To be honest, I love getting hot just for the simple fact of I don’t have to keep shooting,” he said. “I can draw the attention and get other guys shots. That’s kind of my approach to the fourth quarters.”