DETROIT — Rookie big man Wendell Carter Jr. swore the NBA game wasn’t overwhelming him. It was a tough argument when he was averaging just nine points while shooting 19-for-48 over a six-game span.
Then Friday happened.
The seventh overall pick put together his best night as a pro, scoring a career-high 28 points against the Pistons to go with seven rebounds and three blocks.
The rest of the evening? Pure blah.
As good as Carter was, he proved to be the lone highlight, as the Pistons dismantled the Bulls 107-88. It was the Bulls’ fifth straight loss, dropping them to 5-18.
“Final score counts the most,’’ Carter said. “I could go out there and have 50, 60 points. But if we lose, I feel defeated still. Yeah, it’s great to have a lot of points and all that good stuff. But I feel like team wins matter more and will get us going more. If I was to score that many points and win, yeah, I’d be bragging about it then. But it’s not really too much to say.”
When a rookie successfully deals with the physicality of Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond — and, on more than a handful of possessions, forward Blake Griffin — there actually is a lot to say. Carter even brought the Bulls back to life in the second half, scoring 17 points in the third quarter.
“It’s a big confidence booster for Wendell,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “To play against an All-Star in this league in Drummond and to come out here and really control the third quarter, for a guy that’s had some struggles lately and is a year out of college, I was proud of him coming out, especially in that third quarter, and helping us get back in the game.”
Now for the bad, and there was plenty of that to go around. The Bulls shot just 3-for-21 (14.3 percent) from three-point range, were outrebounded 52-40 and gave up 34 points in the first quarter. Leading scorer Zach LaVine, who has carried the short-handed roster most of the season, played as if weighed down. He finished with eight points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Was he feeling a lack of energy?
“Right now, after the game, or right now in general?” LaVine said. “I mean, I’m tired, man, but it don’t matter. All of us are tired. We’re undermanned, so it’s nothing nobody else isn’t feeling.”
LaVine did contribute nine assists, playing the two-man pick-and-roll with Carter throughout the game.
“Missed some shots. Bad game,” LaVine said. “Wendell was hot — you’ve got to feed the hot man, so he had it going. He had a career-high night? So he did a good job, he played good [defense], [but] we just didn’t have enough, didn’t play well enough to win.”
Life doesn’t get any easier. The Bulls play in Houston on Saturday night.
“We got to do a better job regardless of what situation we’re in,” LaVine said. “We played really well after the second quarter, played a good second half, but we just have to play better.”