By Drew Stevens
The Chicago Bulls notched their first win of the preseason with a 133-124 double overtime victory over the defending champion Denver Nuggets at the United Center Thursday.
Here’s what stood out:
Once again Coby White and Patrick Williams started alongside Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic. And just like it did in the first quarter of the preseason opener, that five-man lineup looked committed to attacking. They scored 16 points in the paint and generated eight looks from deep -- only three found the bottom of the net, however, with LaVine and DeRozan each missing two apiece.
"I liked the way the guys played," Billy Donovan said after the game. "I think they're trying to do the right things. Like any game, you're going to have some possessions you want back or were a little bit stagnant. But I thought overall the guys moved the ball. We tried to play the right way. I thought we had some really good spray out opportunities. Felt like we played downhill. I thought we had really good bounce. We didn't shoot the ball particularly well from three (9-for-23 through the first three quarters), so that kind of offset some of the assists and the shooting percentage certainly impacted our scoring.
"But overall I liked the shots we were generating and how we were playing."
LaVine, in particular, looked hellbent on getting to the rim. He knifed his way into the paint multiple times, converted layups in a couple of different instances and created wide-open looks for his teammates in others. He was also active defensively, roaming passing lanes for two steals and four points in transition. He finished the game with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"I'm in shape," LaVine said. "I'm not rehabbing. You're not second guessing things. I feel like myself. I feel like I did from December on. That's pretty much it. I had a full offseason. That's always good to come into camp in shape and not having any extra ailments."
Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig were the first substitutions off the bench, spelling LaVine and Williams midway through the quarter.
Whereas Donovan staggered Williams with the second unit in the preseason opener Sunday, he handed LaVine that baton Thursday, mixing the two-time All-Star in with Carter, Craig, Andre Drummond and Alex Caruso. That group turned a three-point deficit into a 33-33 stalemate to close the quarter.
LaVine remained on the court with Drummond, Caruso, Craig and Ayo Dosunmu, in place of Carter, to open the second quarter, before DeRozan tagged him out at the 8:32 mark of the second quarter.
"I like the shots that Zach took," Donovan said. "I thought he was decisive. I think he always, in his mind, goes back through opportunities he (19 points and four steals) had that maybe he missed. But I like the shots he took. I liked his passing. He was downhill. He took some catch-and-shoot threes. I really liked the way he played with that group."
Dosunmu started the second half with LaVine, DeRozan, Williams and Vucevic. The Nuggets, meanwhile, put all but one of their starters on ice, trotting out a lineup that featured Justin Holiday, DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Jackson, Julian Strawther and Peyton Watson. Dosunmu (seven points, three offensive rebounds and three assists) looked much better in this game compared to the last, using his activity to impact the game.
"We talked about go-guys going," Donovan said. "He go tonight or what? He wanted to be a go-guy. He went. I give him a lot of credit. He generated a lot of extra possessions for us...he took a lot of ownership in wanting to be a guy who would go to the glass."
Through two preseason games, both White and Dosunmu have rotational taken turns with LaVine, DeRozan, Williams and Vucevic. Carter, who signed a three-year, $19.5 million deal with the Bulls this summer and was presumed by many to be glove-in-hand fit alongside that quintet, has yet to do so in any capacity.
"I think the biggest thing with Jevon is getting him comfortable," Donovan said of Carter, who scored eight points, made two of his three looks from deep and dished out four assists in just over 15 minutes of action.
"He's a guy who's played a lot of different positions. I think the biggest thing as he comes into a new team, new players, new system, coaches, style, terminology, all those kind of things. I think he'll find his spots. Whether or not we [play him alongside LaVine, DeRozan, Williams and Vucevic], I think that he would be fine either way. I think the biggest thing for us is finding out where he's most comfortable, on the ball or off the ball."
With three preseason games left to play before the regular-season opener on Oct. 25, things can change. But for now it appears White, who, earlier this week, told The Bigs he wouldn’t take a return to the starting lineup for granted, is in prime position to prove it.
The Bulls finish their home-and-home preseason duel with the Nuggets Sunday.