Bulls win 9th straight — their longest streak since 2011 — with 130-122 victory against Wizards

By Julia Poe

CHICAGO — As far as Zach LaVine is concerned, the sky’s the limit for the Chicago Bulls.

And the Bulls on Friday night backed their star guard’s assessment, defeating the Washington Wizards, 130-122, at the United Center for their ninth straight victory — extending their longest winning streak since 2011 and maintaining their hold on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

In early All-Star balloting released this week, DeMar DeRozan was the top vote-getter among East guards while LaVine was fourth. And LaVine is finally feeling healthy after tearing a ligament in his left thumb in October.

At the time, LaVine did his best to downplay the injury as he played through significant discomfort. But LaVine and coach Billy Donovan both acknowledged the injury took its toll on the guard, who struggled to handle and shoot the ball while wearing a brace and heavy tape.

“You can just look at my shooting splits from then,” LaVine said with a laugh after practice Thursday at the Advocate Center

LaVine ditched the brace in December. After his COVID-19 quarantine last month, he finally feels he can play freely again.

That newfound freedom has been paired with the dynamic performance of DeRozan, who co-stars alongside LaVine to lead the team with a combined 53.2 points and 8.9 assists per game entering Friday.

LaVine looked refreshed Friday, scoring a game-high 27 points against the Wizards. The guard enhanced his All-Star resume with his third straight game with 27 or more points.

“DeMar is having, I feel like, an MVP-type season, and I don’t feel like I’m that far behind him,” LaVine said. “But I don’t think we’re worried about that. If you win, everybody gets what they deserve.”

While DeRozan and LaVine strive to extend their hot streak, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas is setting his sights on the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

The Bulls could be eager to fill gaps left by Patrick Williams’ early injury, which could last most of the season despite being denied an exemption by the league. But Karnišovas emphasized preserving the team’s chemistry during an interview Thursday on WSCR-AM 670.

“We’ve got to be really sensitive to any changes, if any, we will have,” Karnišovas said. “These guys have a great locker room, a great vibe. They like each other. It’s a joy to watch what they’re doing on the floor. But of course, there’s room to improve as a group, and I’m looking forward to watching them.”

Donovan knows the word “chemistry” is batted about regularly in NBA locker rooms, a constant cliche of any team that has found a way to win. But he also believes in its importance for the Bulls, particularly as they prepare for a brutal stretch of 23 games ahead of the All-Star break in February.

“The one thing we feel about with our team is these guys have done a really good job — and it’s really a credit to them and who they are as people — that the relationships they’ve been able to develop in a short period of time has had a significant impact on how well they’ve bonded on the court,” Donovan said.

Donovan noted the effort his players put into building chemistry typically happens behind closed doors — conversations after practice sessions, dinners on off nights.

But on Thursday, that dedication spilled into the spotlight when DeRozan made the drive to Champaign to support rookie Ayo Dosunmu during his jersey retirement at the University of Illinois. Dosunmu scored 18 points against the Wizards, joining Coby White (21 points) to lead the bench in a 52-point night.

“For him to be my teammate (and my) understanding the importance of getting your jersey retired, it was definitely an honor for me to be here and see him make that happen,” DeRozan said Thursday in an interview with Fox Illinois. “It’s just fun. I know what it means. I know what it feels like.”

DeRozan shot 5 for 16 Friday and finished with 15 points and eight assists.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak in December greatly disrupted the Bulls’ season, the new routine of welcoming 10-day hardship-exception players taught the team to quickly imprint an unselfish culture on newcomers — a trait that could come in handy if the Bulls make a big transfer before the deadline.

The Bulls signed five players using hardship exceptions since the start of their outbreak in December. When a hardship player arrives in Chicago, Donovan said it’s a team effort to quickly bring the newcomer up to speed on the team’s expectations on and off the court.

Sometimes the relationships stick — Alfonzo McKinnie, for instance, earned a permanent spot on the roster after averaging six points and 2.3 rebounds in four games as a hardship player.

“Once you’re a part of the team, whether it’s 10 days or the rest of the year, you’re our teammates,” LaVine said. “You’re going to be fighting with us. So they’re definitely welcomed with open arms.”

Whether they gain a new teammate or not, the Bulls are flying high as their newfound star duo makes the most of the strong start.

As the Bulls approach their most challenging stretch of the season to date, LaVine said he isn’t willing to sell his team’s potential short.

“I don’t put any cap on it,” LaVine said.

What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.