Stephen Curry recorded his first triple-double since the opening game of the season but the Golden State Warriors went down to the streaking Memphis Grizzlies 116-108.

Ja Morant starred for the Grizzlies with 29 points including five in the final minutes as Memphis extended its winning run to 10 games and improved to 29-14.

Morant, who also had five rebounds and eight assists, spearheaded the Grizzlies' final-quarter 29-18 rally where Tyus Jones hit back-to-back triples to give them a lead they would not surrender.

Curry had 27 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Warriors although he only shot at 38 percent from the field.

Klay Thompson contributed 14 points with three rebounds and three assists in his second game back from long-term injury as the Warriors moved to 30-10.

 

Bulls pile on the points

The Chicago Bulls had eight players reach double-digit scoring as they hammered the struggling Detroit Pistons 133-87 with DeMar DeRozan starring with 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

The Los Angeles Clippers overcame a 25-point third-quarter deficit to defeat the Denver Nuggets 87-85. MVP Nikola Jokic (21 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists) had a double-double but missed a game-winning three-point attempt on the buzzer.

Chris Paul provided 12 assists to go with his 15 points and five steals as the table-topping Phoenix Suns defeated the Toronto Raptors 99-95.

 

OKC slump in five-game skid

The Oklahoma City Thunder slumped to their fifth straight loss, going down 122-118 to the Washington Wizards. The result leaves OKC with a 13-27 record in second last in the west.

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan wondered whether he was dreaming after hitting a buzzer-beating winning three-pointer for the second consecutive day.

After draining a last-gasp shot to lead the Bulls to glory over the Indiana Pacers on New Year's Eve, DeRozan was at it again on Saturday by nailing one from the left corner to earn the Bulls a 120-119 triumph over the Washington Wizards to extend their winning streak to seven.

According to Basketball Reference, DeRozan is the first player in NBA history to hit game-winning buzzer-beaters on consecutive days.

The big moment arrived when he took hold of Coby White's pass with a little over three seconds remaining, dribbled into the corner, faked the shot on rookie Corey Kispert, set his feet and drained the shot.

It was the culmination of another fine performance for DeRozan, who had 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He is averaging a league-high eight points on 53 per cent shooting in the fourth quarter this season.

"Just to hit a buzzer-beater in general is amazing, especially when you do it on the road," DeRozan said about his moment of glory.

"I don't know if I'm dreaming. If it's real right now.

"It's just an honour to be trusted in the fourth quarter. Whether things are going good or going bad, my team, team-mates always leaned on me to be that calm presence to bring us home.

"I always bring that calm presence as much as I can in the fourth quarter, letting guys understand, as long we got time we got a chance."

With the Brooklyn Nets having lost to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bulls stand alone atop the Eastern Conference with a 24-10 record.

Their recent streak is even more impressive in the context of a spate of absentees, a situation that should be eased by the return from health and safety protocols for Lonzo Ball and Alfonzo McKinnie against the Orlando Magic on Monday.

The game will also see head coach Billy Donovan eligible to return from the protocols as well, and stand-in coach Chris Fleming is happy to hand back the reins.

"I'm quite relieved I can give this back to coach," Fleming said. "I was very fortunate enough to be able to experience this from the head coaching standpoint and see the guys from a little bit of a different side.

"I told them after that I was thankful for the partnership and how hard they poured themselves into making the situation a good one.

"That's pretty much how their character has been all season. They've been resilient, they've handled other blows and different guys have been out, and they've just kept chugging."

The Golden State Warriors stormed home with a strong final quarter led by Stephen Curry to halt the Utah Jazz's winning run with a 123-116 victory on Saturday.

The Warriors fought back from a 16-point deficit in the third quarter with a 37-25 final period, going 13 of 18 from the field.

Curry finished the game with 28 points including six three-pointers with six rebounds and nine assists, while Andrew Wiggins contributed with 25 points.

Donovan Mitchell scored 20 points with nine assists, Rudy Gobert had 20 points and 19 rebounds while Bojan Bogdanovic netted 20 points including four triples for the Jazz who had won six in a row.

The result improves the Warriors to 28-7 while the Jazz are 26-10 in the Western Conference.

 

DeRozan does it again

DeMar DeRozan became the first player to hit a game-winning buzzer beater in successive games since 1997-98 as the Chicago Bulls won 120-119 over the Washington Wizards. DeRozan finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Zach LaVine had 35 points for the Bulls. Bradley Beal had 27 points and 17 assists for the Wizards.

Giannis Antetokounmpo started the year with a triple-double as the Milwaukee Bucks claimed their sixth straight win, beating the New Orleans Pelicans 136-113. Antetokounmpo scored 35 points with 16 rebounds and 10 assists.

Nikola Jokic scored 34 points with 11 rebounds and Facundo Campazzo delivered 22 points and 12 assists as the Denver Nuggets won 124-111 over the Houston Rockets.

 

Nets beaten as stars shooting off

The Brooklyn Nets stars were back together but they were humbled by the depleted Los Angeles Clippers 120-116. Kevin Durant shot 11 of 24 from the field for his 28 points while James Harden went nine of 22 from the field. Harden did have 34 points with 12 rebounds and 13 assists.

James Harden scored 39 points in his second game since coming out of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols to inspire the Brooklyn Nets past the Los Angeles Clippers 124-108.

Harden returned with 36 points and a triple-double in the Nets' 122-155 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day and backed that up against the depleted Clippers, who were without star duo Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (ACL).

The 2018 NBA MVP was in a dominant mood, with Kevin Durant absent in protocols, shooting 15 of 25 from the field and providing 15 assists, as well as having eight rebounds and two steals.

Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton both contributed 18 points for the Nets, while the latter had three blocks. Marcus Morris Sr was the Clippers' best with 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.

 

Bulls duo combine for Hawks defeat

Trae Young returned from COVID protocols with 29 points and nine assists but it was not enough as the Atlanta Hawks lost 130-118 to the Chicago Bulls who had Zach LaVine (30 points, four rebounds, nine assists) and DeMar DeRozan (35 points, five rebounds, 10 assists) impress. LaVine and DeRozan became the first team-mates each with 20 points and five assists in a half over the last 25 seasons.

Ja Morant drained a last-gasp clutch shot to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a thrilling 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, who were missing center Deandre Ayton and head coach Monty Williams after entering protocols. Desmond Bane had a career-high 32 points and Morant finished with 33, grabbing the win after Devin Booker (30 points) had put the Suns ahead with five seconds left with a three-pointer.

The Utah Jazz extended their win streak to four games, even without injured Donovan Mitchell, as they defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 with Jordan Clarkson (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists) starring off the bench.

 

In-form Celtic misses the mark

Jaylen Brown has been in hot point-scoring form lately but his shooting was down at 33.3 percent as the Boston Celtics – without Jayson Tatum who has entered COVID protocols - lost 108-103 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown scored 26 points but made only two of eight from beyond the arc.

The Philadelphia 76ers moved above .500 as Joel Embiid scored 36 points with 13 rebounds in a 117-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

The 76ers center was the dominant player on court, but also involved in a spat with Montrezl Harrell, which saw the latter ejected after a second technical foul in the third quarter.

Embiid had good support from Tobias Harris (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Seth Curry (11 points with three triples, five rebounds, nine assists).

The Wizards had held a six-point quarter-time lead but the 76ers responded with excellent second and third periods, totalling 67-41 to take control of the game.


Jokic double-double leads Nugs past Clippers

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-100 in a thriller with the Serbian center finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Youngster Brandon Boston Jr, who had 18 points, missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time. Jokic becomes the first player to record 25 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and five or more assists in back-to-back games since Charles Barkley in 1988.

Veteran Kevin Love scored 22 points making six-of-nine from beyond the arc, with nine rebounds from 18 minutes on court as the Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Toronto Raptors 144-99 to improve to 20-13. The 45-point win was the Cavs' largest margin since 1991, when they had a franchise-best 68-point win over the Miami Heat.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points including five three-pointers while DeMar DeRozan added 24 points as the Chicago Bulls got past the Indiana Pacers 113-105.  

 

Morant still finding his feet

Ja Morant continues to adjust after returning from injury, shooting eight-of-18 from the field including zero-of-three from three-point range while having four turnovers in the Memphis Grizzlies' 127-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. Morant did finish with 18 points and nine assists.

Chicago Bulls' DeMar DeRozan said he felt "as free as a bird" as he returned from isolation with a star turn against the Los Angeles Lakers.

DeRozan had not played in over two weeks after entering the NBA's health and safety protocols amid a COVID-19 outbreak within the Bulls' camp.

He was one of 10 Chicago players to have to quarantine, though did not suffer any symptoms, and he marked his comeback in emphatic style on Sunday.

DeRozan had 38 points, including decisive free throws inside the last 20 seconds, four rebounds and six assists as Chicago claimed a 115-110 win.

He leads the way for the Bulls on points per game (26.8) this season and despite his stint in quarantine, only Zach LaVine (703) has scored more points for Chicago so far in 2021-22 than DeRozan (671). 

DeRozan is also averaging 8.2 points per game in the fourth quarter this season, the most in the league.

"I felt free as a bird," DeRozan told reporters, as quoted by ESPN.

"Just getting out there, being with those guys, being in front of the fans. Just getting out the basement I was in for 10 days."

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was hugely impressed.

"When the ball is in his hands, there's just a calmness to him," Donovan said.

"He doesn't get rattled. He's been in so many of these moments throughout his life and his career. I think things slowed down for him.

"He knows exactly what he has to get done, what needs to get done and he finds ways to just stay totally locked in. It's really an incredible gift that he has."

Indeed, Carmelo Anthony, who had 21 points for the Lakers, acknowledged DeRozan was at the top of his game.

"The fact that he utilizes the midrange, a lot of people want to kind of discredit that part of the game, but I think that's a lost art," the Lakers forward said.

"DeMar is one of the guys who's mastered that. And at the end of the game, when you gotta down, and you gotta run something, threes are not falling, you gotta get to that. He mastered that.

"He mastered his spots on the court. I think that's why he's very efficient, especially this season, in the fourth quarter, specifically down the stretch."

The victory moved the Bulls to 18-10 for the season, with Chicago well placed in second in the Eastern Conference behind the Brooklyn Nets.

DeMar DeRozan had 38 points as the Chicago Bulls rallied past LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers late in the fourth quarter on the way to a 115-110 victory. 

DeRozan hit a jumper with 52.6 seconds to play to give the Bulls the lead and added a pair of free throws with 15.6 seconds left to extend the margin as Chicago held on late. 

Carmelo Anthony and Wayne Ellington missed game-tying three-point attempts after that before Lonzo Ball iced the win with two more free throws. 

Ball had 19 points and Nikola Vucevic added 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulls (18-10), who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind the Brooklyn Nets (21-9). 

James led the Lakers with 31 points and 14 rebounds but made just one of seven shots from three-point range. Anthony had 21 points and Russell Westbrook finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for Los Angeles (16-15).

 

Suns rip Hornets, hold NBA's best record

The Phoenix Suns (24-5) can now claim the best record in the NBA after a 137-106 demolition of the Charlotte Hornets as Devin Booker returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a hamstring injury. Booker had 16 points and was one of nine Suns to reach double figures as Phoenix led 37-15 after the first quarter and did not let up, making 20 of 41 three-point attempts to 10 of 45 from beyond the arc for Charlotte (16-16).

Damian Lillard scored 32 points as the Portland Trail Blazers (13-18) picked up a 105-100 road win against the Memphis Grizzlies (19-12). The Grizzlies had won five in a row and 10 of 11 but shot only 38.5 per cent from the field Sunday as they squandered a career-best 37-point night from Dillon Brooks. 

 

Lowry, Heat fall to lowly Pistons

The Miami Heat had won four out of five games entering Sunday but everything fell apart in a 100-90 loss to the Detroit Pistons, who had lost a franchise record-tying 14 in a row. Kyle Lowry made just three shots from the field in 42 minutes for the Heat (18-13), though he finished with 19 points as he went 11-of-16 at the free-throw line. Saddiq Bey had 26 point to lead the Pistons (5-24), who recorded their first victory since beating the Indiana Pacers on November 17. 

All-Star guard Zach LaVine is the latest Chicago Bulls player to enter the NBA's health and safety protocols amid a COVID-19 outbreak within the team.

LaVine and team-mate Tony Brown Jr. entered the NBA's health and safety protocols on Sunday, bringing the Bulls' total to nine players since the start of December.

The pair follow DeMar DeRozan, Coby White, Javonte Green, Matt Thomas, Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu and Stanley Johnson in being sidelined.

Once players enter protocols, they must quarantine for 10 days or until they return two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour window.

The Bulls (17-10) are not in action again until Tuesday when they host the Detroit Pistons, where they may have only nine available players.

White and Green will have completed their mandatory isolation period by Tuesday and could be cleared to play.

Under NBA rules, a minimum of eight players are required for a team before postponing a game during an outbreak.

LaVine is enjoying an excellent season, averaging 26.0 points, 4.2 assists and a career-high 5.3 rebounds per game.

The Eastern Conference clash between the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls on Saturday would have been a fascinating contest regardless, but as we are all learning to live with, matters have been complicated by COVID-19.

The Bulls have seen their options depleted, with several players entering the NBA's health and safety protocols in recent days, including star man DeMar DeRozan.

Coming off a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago will be determined to get back to winning ways in Miami, but it is unclear at this stage who will even be taking to the court for Billy Donovan's team.

The Bulls (17-9) are second in the Eastern Conference as they travel to Florida to face the fourth-placed Heat (15-11), but have seen DeRozan, Derrick Jones Jr, Coby White, Matt Thomas and Javonte Green all sidelined by the health and safety protocols.

The Bulls' form has been one of the stories of the season in the NBA, with those who delighted in the Netflix documentary 'The Last Dance' dreaming of a first championship for Chicago since 1998.

Miami have been impressing as well, though. Having disappointingly followed up their run to the NBA Finals in 2019-20 with a first round playoff exit in a whitewash 0-4 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks last season, they appeared to be back to previous levels after winning six of their first seven games of this campaign.

That form has evened out in recent times, but with a home record of 7-4, including an impressive win against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday, the Heat will be confident of taking advantage of a depleted Bulls team, who they beat only a couple of weeks ago in Chicago.

One key area could well be how often the Bulls get into the paint, with Miami highest in the league for field goal percentage allowed in the paint (59.9), while Chicago have the second lowest (52.1).

Expect a strong start from Chicago, who boast the second most points per game from starters in the league (82.5) compared to Miami who have fifth fewest (68.2), although things may well turn as the Heat have the fifth-highest average points from the bench (39.1) while the Bulls have the second fewest (26.4).

DeRozan would undoubtedly be a huge miss for the Bulls. The 32-year-old has found life a breeze in the Windy City, scoring at least 20 points in all but four of his 24 appearances so far, sitting fourth in the league for average points per game (26.4).

Another possible absentee in the game is former Bull Jimmy Butler, who is 16th in the league for average points per game (22.8) but has missed the last few outings for the Heat with a tailbone injury, while Bam Adebayo will definitely be out after requiring thumb surgery.

Caleb Martin posted career-highs in points (28) and triples (six) as the Heat beat the Bucks 113-104, and along with Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Tyler Herro, will be hoping to go big again and take advantage of the shorthanded Bulls.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Chicago Bulls – Zach LaVine

If DeRozan is unable to play, the onus will fall on Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball to carry the Bulls to victory in Miami, with LaVine in particular almost certainly required to post a big score.

That should not be too much of a problem for the top point scorer in the NBA right now (670) who has played all 26 games for the Bulls so far this season, only failing to score more than 20 points on three occasions.

The shooting guard is also third in the league for dunks on a fast break with 17, which could come in handy when up against one of the older rosters in the NBA. Miami has the third-oldest active roster (28 years and 291 days) compared to the tenth-youngest Chicago (25 years and 112 days).

Miami Heat – Tyler Herro

The man announced as the best dressed athlete at Sports Illustrated's SI Awards on Tuesday will be hoping to look as impressive on the court when the Bulls come to town.

Herro scored 20+ points in 12 of his first 17 games this season, but has managed it just twice in his last six outings, including only scoring nine in the win against the Bucks.

The 21-year-old in his third season is increasingly becoming the Heat's key player, averaging 20.8 points per game, the 23rd most in the league, and will hope to impress more than judges of his attire with a big showing on Saturday.

KEY BATTLE – Will Bulls be able to find their mid-range?

The topic of mid-range shots and their usefulness seems to divide basketball fans, but it is an area that the Bulls in particular like to utilise as the team with the third-highest field-goal percentage from mid-range this season (45.1), behind only the Brooklyn Nets (49.0) and Portland Trail Blazers (46.7).

However, the Heat tops the table for lowest percentage of field-goals allowed from mid-range (34.7).

With DeRozan – who has the most field-goals made from the elbow this season (79) – likely to be missing, it could be that Chicago has to adjust their method of attack in Miami.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Heat prevailed 107-104 when these two met in November, and have won five of the last six meetings between the teams.

The Chicago Bulls will be without DeMar DeRozan against the Denver Nuggets on Monday after the star entered the NBA's health and safety protocols.

DeRozan is the third Bulls player to go through the league's COVID-19 protocols, joining team-mates Coby White and Javonte Green.

It remains to be seen how long four-time All-Star DeRozan will be sidelined in Chicago, where the new-look Bulls (16-8) have made a strong start to the season.

DeRozan has fuelled the Bulls, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honours having averaged 30.3 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 58.7 per cent from the field.

Entering Monday's play, DeRozan – who leads the league in points (633) – has been averaging 26.4 points per game, his best mark since the 2016-17 season.

DeRozan has also averaged 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists, while shooting 49.8 per cent from the field and 33.3 per cent from three-point range – the 32-year-old only managed better in 2015-16 (33.8).

Chicago defeated the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets 111-107 on Saturday while outscoring their opponents 32-25 in the fourth quarter. The Bulls are averaging 28.3 points in the fourth quarter this season, the most in the NBA, according to Stats Perform.

Against the Nets, Zach LaVine poured in 31 points while DeRozan scored 29. This season, the Bulls are 9-2 when both players score at least 25 points and 7-6 when only one or neither hit that mark.

Nikola Jokic's return proved the perfect tonic for the slumping Denver Nuggets after the reigning MVP helped snap a six-game slide in a 120-111 victory over the Miami Heat.

All eyes were on Jokic, who had missed four straight games because of a wrist injury amid Denver's worst six-game stretch since the 2014-15 season.

There was also plenty of interest as the Nuggets and Heat renewed hostilities for the first time since Jokic and Miami's Markieff Morris were involved in a dustup on November 8.

Jokic received a one-game ban after shoving Morris in the back as tempers flared – the Nuggets star reacting angrily after the Heat veteran came in with a hard foul, catching his opponent with a left elbow to the chest.

While the Heat were shorthanded in the absence of Morris – who has missed 11 consecutive games since the incident, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, Miami fans let their feelings known, booing Jokic every time he touched the ball.

Jokic, with his two brothers behind the Denver bench, was not fussed as he posted 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.

Double-doubles from Bam Adebayo (24 points and 13 rebounds) and Kyle Lowry (17 points and 14 assists) were not enough for the Heat.

 

Doncic matches Robertson

Luka Doncic had 25 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in the Dallas Mavericks' 114-96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He tied Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles (38) before turning 23. Mavericks star Doncic celebrates his 23rd birthday in February.

Lonzo Ball earned family bragging rights after the Chicago Bulls outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 133-119. Up against brother LaMelo and the Hornets, Lonzo's Balls prevailed thanks to Nikola Vucevic (30 points and 14 rebounds), DeMar DeRozan (28 points) and Zach LaVine (25 points). According to Stats Perform, Chicago are the first team to have a starting guard (LaVine), starting forward (DeRozan) and starting center (Vucevic) have 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in the same game since the Orlando Magic in January 1994. LaMelo Ball's 18 points and 13 assists were not enough for the Hornets.

Seth Curry put up 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting as the Philadelphia 76ers held on to beat the Magic 101-96 at home. The 76ers are riding a five-game winning streak against the Magic – their longest such streak against Orlando.

Jonas Valanciunas nailed seven of his three-point attempts as he torched the Los Angeles Clippers in a 39-point and 15-rebound performance, the New Orleans Pelicans triumphing 123-104.

 

Lillard struggles in Blazers loss

Much was said about All-Star Damian Lillard heading into the season amid question marks over his future with the Portland Trail Blazers. Had he outgrown the smalltown market? Well, his topsy-turvy campaign continued after scoring just 11 points on four-of-12 shooting from the floor in the 129-107 defeat at the Utah Jazz.

Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Giddey had a game to forget as fellow strugglers the Houston Rockets eased past the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-89. In 25 minutes, Giddey made only one of his nine shots from the field, missing his five three-point attempts for two points in total.

Lonzo Ball believes the Chicago Bulls are "one of the top teams in the NBA" after their 121-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.

DeMar DeRozan was the star of the show with 38 points, while Ball added 27 of his own to go with 26 from Zach LaVine as the Bulls secured an impressive victory on Monday.

It was their first win against the Lakers since 2016, having gone eight games without success, and they move to 10-4 for the season.

The visitors were particularly deadly from three-point range, hitting 44.1 per cent (15 from 34 attempts), with Ball himself sinking 7 from 10. The Lakers managed just 18.8 per cent of theirs (six from 32).

"I think we are one of the top teams in the NBA," Ball said. "We've still got a lot to improve on and a long way to go, but I think we're moving in the right direction."

The Lakers struggled again in the absence of LeBron James (abdominal strain), with Talen Horton-Tucker (28 points), Russell Westbrook (25) and Anthony Davis (20) unable to do enough to tame their opponents.

Indeed, it was a Los Angeles native, DeRozan – reportedly considered by the Lakers in free agency before the season – who ran the game.

A day after putting up 35 points against the Clippers in the same arena, the 32-year-old went three better, and he acknowledged after the game that the extra motivation of playing in LA may have been a factor.

"Every night you've got to find some type of extra motivation," said DeRozan. "We've got a couple of guys that played [in LA], [others] from here. Just having that extra juice, that energy to go out there and compete, is always beneficial."

Meanwhile, the Lakers go to 8-7 and are 3-4 since James was sidelined. Another bad night for Frank Vogel's team was compounded when Davis was ejected for dissent.

Having lost his shoe after a missed shot, Ball retrieved it and gave it back to Davis, who was putting it on when the referee gave the ball to the Bulls to take out of bounds.

Davis made a comment to the official, before being given a technical and ejected from the game.

Of the incident, Vogel said: "Typically, the ref will let the guy get his shoe on, have some common sense.

"Quick inbounds. AD said that's 'BS,' which happens about 15 times in the NBA, every game. OK. Quick tech. Ejection. That's all I'm going to say about that."

DeMar DeRozan was at his brilliant best again as the Chicago Bulls routed the Los Angeles Lakers 121-103 in the NBA on Monday.

DeRozan is the face of the new-look Bulls and the four-time All-Star maintained his MVP-calibre start to the season with a game-high 38 points at Staples Center.

The 32-year-old, who joined the Bulls ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, had his fourth 35-plus point game of the month – tying a career high.

Chicago have won four of their past five games, having also trumped the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, on the back of Lonzo Ball's seven three-pointers in his 27-point display against former team the Lakers.

Zach LaVine added 26 points for the Bulls, who improved to 10-4 in the Eastern Conference after beating the Lakers for the first time since 2016, snapping an eight-game drought.

Without superstar LeBron James, Talen Horton-Tucker (28 points), Russell Westbrook (25 points) and Anthony Davis (20 points) led the stuttering Lakers (8-7).

 

 

Streaking Suns sizzle

Last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns celebrated their ninth successive victory after outlasting the Minnesota Timberwolves 99-96. Devin Booker (29 points), Deandre Ayton (22 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (21 points) all starred on the road. Ayton is the only player this season to be averaging 15-plus points and 10-plus rebounds while shooting at least 60 per cent from the field.

Cade Cunningham joined Stephen Curry (twice), Trae Young and Jason Kidd as the only rookies in NBA history with 25 points, five three-pointers, eight rebounds and eight assists in a game. The number one draft pick, however, was unable to prevent the lowly Detroit Pistons falling 129-107 to the Sacramento Kings.

 

Doncic limps off court

The Dallas Mavericks took down reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 111-101, but it appeared to have come at a cost. Mavericks star Luka Doncic limped off the court after rolling his ankle in the final minute of the game. Doncic had posted 23 points and 11 assists to help fuel the Mavericks. Jokic's 35-point and 16-rebound double-double was not enough for Denver.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hailed Joel Embiid for taking an "Alonzo Mourning approach" with his decisive block on DeMar DeRozan in a 103-98 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

With less than 10 seconds left and the 76ers leading 102-98, DeRozan drove to the bucket for a dunk that would have ensured a tense finale but was blocked by Embiid. It was a play that Rivers labelled "game-saving" and likened to a move by Miami Heat great Mourning.

Embiid has not been at his best this season, averaging 21.0 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He finished this game with 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists but stood up when it counted.

"Big play at the rim. Really big play," Rivers told reporters after the game. "I love when bigs go after dunks. Half these guys in the league won't go after it because they are worried if they get dunked on.

"I love the Alonzo Mourning approach. I thought Joel took it. Going after DeRozan, that's a big play, that's a game-saving play."

Seth Curry top-scored for the Sixers with 22 points, shooting nine from 14 from the field, including a clutch two-pointer to put them 102-98 up.

The result improved Philadelphia, who are still without Ben Simmons, to 6-2 and completed a run of four home games with four wins.

The 76ers were also missing starters Tobias Harris (COVID-19) and Danny Green (hamstring), making their run of victories more impressive having been 2-2 after a 112-99 loss to the New York Knicks.

"It was huge. We talked about it after the New York game. We had a four-game home stand, we had to win them all," Rivers said.

"We obviously didn’t know we'd have all these guys out. The fact we still won them all with all these guys out was pretty cool."

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the Chicago Bulls were viewed as a team that could possibly contend for a play-in game, and maybe, just maybe even secure a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference.

Sure, no team compiled more losses over the previous four seasons than the Bulls' 199 defeats, but executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas had a busy offseason constructing a lineup that on paper looked like it had the pieces to compete in the East.  

The biggest questions on the onset of the season were how long it would take the new additions to build chemistry and how soon until they could become competitive.

The Bulls have quickly answered those questions.

Chicago have opened with six victories in their first seven games and are coming off two signature wins – Saturday's victory over the previously undefeated Utah Jazz and Monday's 19-point comeback on the road against the Boston Celtics.

Karnisovas began building what he hoped would be a playoff team at last season's trade deadline by adding two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, but the Bulls ultimately stumbled down the stretch as Zach LaVine missed 11 games in April and May while in the league's health and safety protocols.

The roster overhaul continued in the offseason with the acquisition of four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan and point guard Lonzo Ball in separate sign-and-trade deals, and now with multiple scoring options, an offense that moves the ball and an improved defense, the Bulls are a complete team. Their net rating of 9.6 trails only the Miami Heat and the Jazz – the league's only other 6-1 teams.

For the past few seasons, the Bulls' offense revolved around the play of LaVine. A first-time All-Star in 2020-21, LaVine accounted for 19.6 per cent of Chicago's scoring over the past three seasons – the eighth-highest percentage for any player with at least 4,000 points scored for a single team over that span.

He now has a running mate in DeRozan to help shoulder the burden, and the early returns have been fantastic.

With LaVine nursing a left thumb sprain on his non-shooting hand, DeRozan has stepped up offensively, producing back-to-back 30-point games against the Jazz and the Celtics.

His game compliments with the Bulls' offense, as he is able to score from mid-range while relying on his team-mates to knock down threes. DeRozan is shooting 54.1 per cent on 37 jumpers attempted between 10 and 15 feet, and his 21 field goals made from the elbow are the most in the league.

He played a big part in Chicago's frantic fourth-quarter comeback win over the Celtics, and he has been a huge contributor down the stretch in the first few weeks of the season.

His 50 fourth-quarter points trail only Giannis Antetokounmpo's 51 for the most in the league, and he has been clutch at the foul line in the final period, making 12 of 13 free throws. LaVine has been slightly better from the line in the fourth, making all but one of his 17 attempts.

Getting to the foul line has been a major point of emphasis this season under second-year Bulls coach Billy Donovan, and they have been succeeding.

After ranking last in the NBA in free throws attempted per game last season at 17.5 – the lowest mark in franchise history – Chicago are ninth this season at 21.6. That improvement of 4.1 free throws attempted per game is the largest increase in the league.

Cutting down on turnovers is another area the Bulls were looking to clean up after ranking 27th in the league last season at 15.1 per game, and again, they have seen the biggest improvement in the NBA. Averaging 2.2 fewer turnovers per game this season, Chicago rank third in the league at 12.9 per game and have the league's seventh-lowest turnover rate at 11.9 per cent.

 

LaVine has been one of the biggest factors in the team's improvement in protecting the ball, averaging 2.3 turnovers per game after averaging 3.4 or more in each of the previous three seasons.

For the second year in a row, LaVine leads the Bulls in assists, and while 4.9 per game does not sound all that special, it is the way that the team have been distributing the ball that has been encouraging.

With Ball averaging 4.4 assists, Vucevic averaging 4.3 assists and DeRozan at 4.0 per game, the Bulls and the Indiana Pacers are the only two teams to have at least four players averaging at least 4.0 assists.

The Bulls' biggest acquisitions of this calendar year – DeRozan, Ball and Vucevic – are extremely versatile, with each averaging better than 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. They are the only team to have three players each reaching those numbers this season, and the Bulls have not had a trio of players with those stats since 1994-95, when Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Toni Kukoc did it.

While Ball and Vucevic are finding roles in a balanced offense, the two of them along with another offseason acquisition have helped shore up a defense that was not all that formidable a year.

Hours after the signing of Ball, the Bulls also added free agent Alex Caruso. While the Caruso signing did not grab as many headlines as the additions of Ball and DeRozan, the former champion with the Los Angeles Lakers is also making an immediate impact.

Caruso's 18 steals lead all bench players this season, and his average of 4.52 steals per 48 minutes is the second-highest rate in the league behind only Paul George at 4.66 among the 142 players with at least 175 minutes.

While Caruso is hounding opposing ball-handers, Ball is frustrating opposing shooters, averaging 1.14 blocks – the second-best by a point guard behind the Sacramento Kings' Tyrese Haliburton at 1.29 per game.

Led by the offseason additions, Chicago's revamped disruptive defense is averaging 8.86 steals per game (up from 6.69 per game a year ago, when they were third-worst) and ranks fourth in blocks at 6.29 per game (an improvement from 4.22 per game in 2020-21, when they ranked 27th). It is also second in points per game off turnovers at 21.6 after ranking 26th last season with 14.5 per game.

Over the weekend, the Bulls put the rest of the league on notice that their defense should be taken seriously as they stymied the Jazz, holding them to season lows of 38.0 per cent shooting and 99 points – nearly 13 points fewer than their season average. That was one of three times already Chicago have limited their opponents to 40 per cent shooting or less after having four such games in a 72-game schedule last season.

It is obviously early, and the Bulls have a brutal schedule over the next two and a half weeks (their opponents' winning percentage of .609 through November 21 is the highest in the league), but Chicago have proven they have the makeup both offensively and defensively to compete with anyone.

While the narrative a few weeks ago for the Bulls was whether the team could make the playoffs, the franchise is now targeting much loftier goals.

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