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.

DeMar DeRozan insisted the Chicago Bulls "want to win now" after opening the season 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97.

The red-hot Bulls preserved their perfect record with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors in the NBA on Monday.

Chicago – the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference – were busy in the offseason, having recruited four-time All-Star DeRozan, former second pick Lonzo Ball and 2020 NBA champion Alex Caruso.

It came after the Bulls traded for two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic last season.

The last time the Bulls opened with a 4-0 record, Hall of Famer and six-time champion Michael Jordan was on the team in Chicago.

"Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win," DeRozan said after scoring 26 points against his former team.

"Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organisation to the players that I spoke to.

"That was everybody's mindset, it's all about winning now. We're not in a development stage, we want to win now."

DeRozan added: "We've got a long way to go. We've got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It's a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we've got a lot more basketball to go.

"We can't carry this record like it's some kind of badge of honour; we've got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder."

The previous two times the Bulls started 4-0 (1995-96 and 1996-97), they went on to win the NBA championship.

"I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together," Ball added. "I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That's what's going on."

DeMar DeRozan is headed to Chicago on a new three-year, $85million contract after the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs orchestrated a sign-and-trade deal, multiple outlets on reported Tuesday.

The Spurs received Thaddeus Young and Al-Farouq Aminu, who are both on expiring contracts, as well as a future first-round draft pick and two future second-round picks.

DeRozan, who turns 32 later this week, is one of the most consistent scorers in the NBA, averaging at least 20 points per game over each of the last eight seasons.

The 6ft 6in swingman averaged 21.6 points and a career-high 6.9 assists last season for San Antonio while shooting 49.5 percent from the floor.

DeRozan's game, however, has come under scrutiny by some due to his unwillingness to attempt and inability to make three-pointers.

He shot just 22.7 percent from beyond the arc in his three-season tenure with the Spurs.

The move is the latest for Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley in an effort to end the franchise's four-season playoff drought.

Also joining Chicago will be point guard Lonzo Ball, who received a four-year, $85m contract Monday in a sign-and-trade deal that ended his tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Bulls also signed restricted free agent guard Alex Caruso after the Los Angeles Lakers declined to match Chicago's four-year, $37m offer.

Chicago were buyers at last season's trade deadline, acquiring former All-Star center Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic, and are making an urgent push to build around Zach LaVine and win their first playoff series since 2015.

Always a dangerous scorer, LaVine achieved new levels of efficiency last season, shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three-point range, both career highs.

Chicago was thought to be in the market for a polished player or two this offseason, but many thought the team would need to part ways with a young asset.

But the Bulls' front office was able to add both DeRozan and Ball without giving up Lauri Markkanen, Patrick Williams or Coby White. 

The NBA-leading Utah Jazz were upstaged by the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time in three nights, beaten 105-104 on Monday.

Utah, who lost 101-96 to the Timberwolves on Saturday, led 104-103 with 6.4 seconds remaining on the road in Minneapolis.

But the Timberwolves rallied, Ricky Rubio finding D'Angelo Russell for the layup before Jazz All-Star Mike Conley (26 points) lost the ball in a scramble on the final possession as time expired.

With the win, the Timberwolves claimed a series sweep of the Jazz – going 3-0 this season. It is the first time in NBA history a team with a win percentage below .300 swept a series of at least three games against a team with a win percentage of at least .700.

Russell posted 27 points behind a season-high seven three-pointers, star team-mate Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Anthony Edwards added 14 points for the Timberwolves (18-44) – who have the joint-second fewest victories this season.

The Jazz (44-17) are now only one game clear of the red-hot Phoenix Suns (43-18) in the Western Conference.

Phoenix closed in on Utah after snapping the New York Knicks' nine-game winning streak via a 118-110 victory.

Devin Booker fuelled the Suns by scoring 33 points, while Chris Paul (20) and Mikal Bridges (21) contributed on the road.

 

Spurs survive shoot-out as Westbrook closes in on record

DeMar DeRozan's 37 points and 10 assists helped the San Antonio Spurs to a 146-143 overtime win at the Washington Wizards, who lost for the first time in eight games. Not even Bradley Beal's game-high 45 points nor Russell Westbrook's league-leading 29th triple-double (22 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists) could extend Washington's streak. Westbrook now has 175 career triple-doubles, seven away from breaking Oscar Robertson's record for the most in history.

Zion Williamson showcased his efficiency as the New Orleans Pelicans upset the Los Angeles Clippers 120-103. Williamson had 23 points on eight-of-11 shooting, including a three-pointer and five assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers snapped a four-game skid thanks to their 121-90 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Philadelphia had an NBA-season high 22 steals at home to the struggling Thunder, who suffered a franchise-worst tying 14th consecutive defeat. The 76ers went 0-4 in Ben Simmons' absence but the All-Star returned to have 12 points on six-of-eight shooting, four assists, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

Double-doubles from Dennis Schroder (21 points and 10 assists) and Andre Drummond (3 points and 11 rebounds) guided defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers past the Orlando Magic 114-103. Anthony Davis had 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks for the Lakers.

Michael Porter Jr. put up 31 points as the short-handed Denver Nuggets defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 120-96. MVP candidate Nikola Jokic tallied his league-leading 53rd double-double of 24 points and 15 rebounds.

 

Hawks struggle from beyond the arc

It was a forgettable outing for the Atlanta Hawks, who were beaten 100-86 by the lowly Detroit Pistons. Atlanta were particularly awful from three-point range, where they shot just 14.8 per cent after making only four of their 27 attempts.

The Toronto Raptors topped the Cleveland Cavaliers 112-96, but it was not the best of games from star Fred VanVleet. In 32 minutes, VanVleet was just three-of-10 shooting, making only one of five three-point attempts for eight points.

On a miserable night for the Clippers, Paul George headlined their woes. The All-Star was three-for-11 shooting, while making just one of his six three-point attempts for nine points.

 

Bol Bol with authority!

One of the tallest players in the NBA, Nuggets big man Bol Bol showcased his quick hands and feet en route to the basket as he finished emphatically against the Grizzlies.

 

Monday's results

Detroit Pistons 100-86 Atlanta Hawks
Los Angeles Lakers 114-103 Orlando Magic
Philadelphia 76ers 121-90 Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs 146-143 Washington Wizards (OT)
Phoenix Suns 118-110 New York Knicks
Toronto Raptors 112-96 Cleveland Cavaliers
Chicago Bulls 110-102 Miami Heat
Minnesota Timberwolves 105-104 Utah Jazz
New Orleans Pelicans 120-103 Los Angeles Clippers
Denver Nuggets 120-96 Memphis Grizzlies
Sacramento Kings 113-106 Dallas Mavericks

 

Nets at Raptors

Kevin Durant and the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets (41-20) are on the road against the Raptors (26-35) on Tuesday.

DeMar DeRozan out-dueled Zion Williamson down the stretch to give the San Antonio Spurs a 110-108 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. 

DeRozan scored nine of his 32 points in the final three minutes, bringing the visitors back from a late five-point deficit on Saturday. 

The Spurs star made all 12 of his free-throw attempts as San Antonio collectively went 27 of 32 (84.4 per cent) from the line. New Orleans, meanwhile, made only 17 of 32 (53.1 per cent). 

Williamson's ninth point of the 33 he would score gave him 2,000 for his career in just 79 games, which is 10th-fastest in NBA history. That marks the fewest games a player has needed to reach 2,000 points since Michael Jordan did it in his 73rd NBA game in 1985.

Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram added 24 points each for the Pelicans, but they could not overcome all of the missed free throws. 

  

Randle, Knicks win ninth in a row

Julius Randle had 31 points as the New York Knicks rolled past the Toronto Raptors 120-103 for their ninth consecutive win -- the longest streak for New York since they won 13 in a row in 2013. 

Bam Adebayo scored 20 points and added 10 assists as the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls to move within a half game of the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Rookie Anthony Edwards' 23 points and nine rebounds helped the Minnesota Timberwolves hand the Utah Jazz a rare loss in Salt Lake City, 101-96. Utah are now 26-4 at home this season. 

 

Sixers struggle to score

Playing without Joel Embiid, who missed the game with right shoulder soreness, the Philadelphia 76ers had only one starter score in double figures in a 132-94 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Philadelphia made just 31 of 82 from the field (37.8 per cent) as Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey led the scoring off the bench with 15 points each. Seth Curry paced the starters with 13 points. 

 

Luka gets the roll

The Dallas Mavericks trailed the Los Angeles Lakers by as many as 17 points on Saturday but stormed back in the fourth quarter thanks in part to Luka Doncic doing what Luka Doncic does.

 

Saturday's results

Milwaukee Bucks 132-94 Philadelphia 76ers
New York Knicks 120-103 Toronto Raptors
Indiana Pacers 115-109 Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat 106-101 Chicago Bulls
San Antonio Spurs 110-108 New Orleans Pelicans
Dallas Mavericks 108-93 Los Angeles Lakers
Minnesota Timberwolves 101-96 Utah Jazz
Denver Nuggets 129-116 Houston Rockets

 

Suns at Nets

An appealing match-up of guards is on tap Sunday as Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns (42-17) visit Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets (40-20). 

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