The Bulls weren’t necessarily out to send a message in the 15th game of the regular season, but you’d better believe they were trying to build their confidence.
The Bulls visited a Hornets team considered to be in the same ZIP code in the NBA’s hierarchy and pulled away late for a 123-110 victory.
‘‘That’s always been the case,’’ veteran forward Thad Young said of beating a similar team. ‘‘Beat the teams that we think we’re supposed to beat, and then go out there and beat the teams that everybody thinks we shouldn’t beat.
‘‘We’re striving to, when we have a game against a team that we’re supposed to beat or a team that’s the likes of us, go out there and take care of business. And then when we run across a team that’s a championship-contending team each and every year, try to sneak those wins out. Because those are the ones that count in the end.’’
What counted against the Hornets, however, was the Bulls pushing their winning streak to three games for the first time since February 2019.
And guard Zach LaVine once again was the catalyst, scoring 25 points and handing out an impressive nine assists. Coach Billy Donovan has LaVine embracing team basketball.
Entering the game, LaVine was averaging 29.8 points and 3.8 assists in the Bulls’ eight losses and 24.2 points and 7.3 assists in their six victories.
He stuck to that script against the Hornets, and it paid dividends.
‘‘A little bit of me just understanding, over the last three years, that you can’t do it by yourself,’’ LaVine said when asked about his evolution. ‘‘I think I took a step in the right direction in the offseason by looking at how I can help my teammates better and trusting [them]. Having guys healthy helps a lot.
‘‘I’m just trying to read the game. We’re creating a lot of open shots, so it’s been good.’’
It’s that ‘‘reading the game’’ comment that Donovan focused on. When LaVine is playing unselfish basketball, the Bulls’ entire roster seems to follow suit.
The Bulls finished with 33 assists as a team. That’s hard to beat on most nights.
‘‘I think players get to a point in their career where winning is really, really important,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘And for [LaVine’s] career, I think I’m his sixth head coach that he’s had. There’s not been a lot of stability for him, and he wants to win. He loves the group, and I think he’s learning a lot this year.
‘‘He’s been great trying to play the right way. I think he understands that he’s got to lift up the level of play of the team. I think the sign of a great player is a player that makes everyone around him better. And I thought he really made some great passes and got guys some open looks. That’s his evolution as a player. Everyone knows he can score. Can he raise up the group around him? And I think that’s what he’s really worked hard to do this year.’’
So what will it take for the Bulls to make it four consecutive victories? Getting through LeBron James and the Lakers on Saturday at the United Center.
Oh, what a victory against the reigning champs would do for the Bulls in the confidence department.