The Chicago Bulls are a team built to succeed now after a late-season rebuild last year and the signing of key free agents in the offseason. They will be tested when they hit the road for a dustup against the enigmatic but determined San Antonio Spurs on Friday in the return to the Alamo City by the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan played for the Spurs for three seasons (2018-21), was the team’s leading scorer in two of those campaigns and was barely edged out by LaMarcus Aldridge in the other. He’s assumed the go-to-player role with Chicago this year, and the Bulls are flourishing.
The Bulls travel to San Antonio on the heels of a 111-105 win at home over Toronto on Wednesday as DeRozan scored 29, Zach LaVine added 23, Nikola Vucevic racked up 17 points and 15 rebounds and Javonte Green hit for 12 points. Chicago won its second straight game, marking the first time since Jan. 7 that it’s won back-to-back contests.
“Hopefully the last two games can give us an opportunity to get better,” Chicago coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s a lot of things that we can learn from this and get better from. This is the opportunity for our team to really grow.”
The Bulls won despite being without assistant coaches Mo Cheeks and John Bryant, whom the team confirmed Wednesday have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in league health and safety protocols. Chicago has struggled in recent weeks with injuries and players out because of COVID.
“It’s been a little while since we all played together,” DeRozan said. “All of us are just getting comfortable. (Wednesday’s win was) a good start. Just try and continue to build on that. Take what they give us, make our teammates better and just find our rhythm playing together.”
The Spurs head back to the court after a 118-110 loss at home to Memphis on Wednesday in which the Grizzlies’ Ja Morant racked up a season-high-tying 41 points. Morant’s exploits overshadowed the performance of San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray, who had 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in amassing his 10th triple-double of the season, second in the NBA to Denver’s Nikola Jokic (11).
With 14 career triple doubles, Murray is now tied on the Spurs’ career list with NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson.
Murray’s triple doubles this season already are more in one season than any other player in Spurs history. The San Antonio team record for triple doubles in a season was five by Robinson (1993-94) and Johnny Moore (1984-85).
Devin Vassell paced the Spurs with 20 points off the bench while Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl scored 18 each, Derrick White hit for 14 and Lonnie Walker IV had 12 points for San Antonio, which has dropped three of its past four games.
Wednesday’s game was tied at 106 with just under five minutes remaining, but the Spurs were worn out after marching back from a 15-point second-quarter deficit and from the rigors of playing the second game of a road-home back-to-back.
“We just make turnovers at inopportune times or make a bad decision, which makes it tough,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after Wednesday’s setback. “But as usual, they don’t give in. They keep working. They dig down deep.
“Overall, the big problem in some of our games is rebounding. We gave up 28 second-chance points and that’s tough. You have to work awful hard to recover from that, which they did. We’ve just got to keep plugging and creating better habits and keep learning.”
–Field Level Media