It didn’t happen overnight, but the Chicago Bulls are finally seeing the desired return on their blockbuster deal that paired Nikola Vucevic with Zach LaVine.
For the first time since acquiring the two-time All-Star at the trade deadline, they were able to string together consecutive wins, with statement victories over the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers.
Suddenly, the playoffs don’t look so far away, and the Bulls have their two All-Stars to thank.
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Updated Bulls’ Playoff Odds
After back-to-back wins over Eastern Conference rivals, the Chicago Bulls definitely look like a playoff team.
It’s getting there that’s the problem, and they’ve got a ways to go.
The Bulls are now 21-28, which is good for the 10th seed in the East, with a two-game lead over the 11th-seed Toronto Raptors, who they’re set to play on Thursday night.
Chicago’s most likely route to the postseason is the play-in tournament, which is held between the seven and 10 seeds, to determine the seventh and eight seeds in both conferences.
If that were to take place today, the Bulls would be set for a matchup with the Pacers, who they notably put down on Tuesday night, but were without top contributors Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis.
Five Thirty Eight currently has a Chicago playoff berth at 15 percent likelihood. That’s good for the third worst mark of all teams with greater than one percent odds.
Luckily, the scheduling gods are smiling on the Bulls for once.
With 23 games remaining, they’ve got the 15th toughest remaining schedule, per Tankathon.com. And Chicago’s next three games are all winnable: a depleted Raptors team, the Atlanta Hawks, and the league’s worst Minnesota Timberwolves.
Chicago’s All-Stars are Gelling
Very few people around the league were confident enough to call Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine a “natural fit” at the time of the trade deadline.
It’s never easy pairing two All-Stars, especially mid-season, and the weight of the Chicago Bulls desperate desire to win now doesn’t help either.
But in their latest win over the Indiana Pacers, fans caught a glimpse of what could potentially be a longterm fit and partnership between LaVine and Vucevic. The two combined for 51 points, 25 rebounds, and 15 assists.
32 of those points and 17 of those rebounds may have come from Vucevic, but for LaVine, that’s no problem at all. He told reporters (via NBC Sports) after the game that winning is most important:
As long as there’s a ‘W’ behind there, I’m good….I think you (reporters) know me. I’m all about winning and trying to get this team to be better. So if that means me takin a lesser role some nights and my scoring goes down. I’m fine with that as long as we get a win.
Even after a night where the guard made just six-of-18 shots from the field, and only four-of-12 of his three-point attempts, Vucevic told reporters LaVine can (and should) play more aggressive:
I think at times he might be a little to unselfish and he can be a little more aggressive, which I’ve told him.
It’ll take time undoubtedly, but games like Monday’s win should become a more frequent occurrence, if the two All-Stars can learn to play with and off of each other.
Vucevic acknowledged the challenge, but more importantly, the potential results:
The more him and I are able to grow and build that chemistry and two-man game, the better it will be for the whole team. I think in this league when you have a two-man game like that with two guys who can score in different ways, it’s very hard to guard.
The efficiency isn’t there yet, but there’s already a brewing chemistry at play between the two.
Per NBA.com’s Passes Tracking, LaVine has recorded eight assists to Vucevic since the trade deadline, the most he’s made to any Bulls player over the last six games.
The adjustment period is a process. But things are progressing in Chicago.
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