Monday night was supposed to be all about an old back yard rivalry between two brothers. Lonzo Ball and the Chicago Bulls were hosting LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets, and to begin with, the brotherly rivalry stood out.
Lonzo came out immediately and knocked down a couple of three-pointers, playing like he had something to prove. With all of the talk about LaMelo and his reigning Rookie of the Year status, big brother had to remind everybody what he could do as well.
However, as the first half went on, the story quickly shifted to being about big man Nikola Vucevic.
It was a weird first half for Vucevic. Hornets forward PJ Washington put Vucevic on blast several times by drilling five three-pointers — and each one of them came thanks to Vucevic trying to play catch-up on defense.
It was enough to highly frustrate Bulls fans as they watched Vucevic continually get burned. But, oddly enough, Vucevic was the reason Chicago pulled away in the end. Just as K.C. Johnson pleaded for a few days ago, Vucevic got involved, and the game changed.
Nikola Vucevic finally found his groove and the Chicago Bulls were able to beat the Charlotte Hornets thanks to his big game.
At one point in the second half, the Bulls were up by 23 points. Vucevic headed to the bench. Then, the Hornets began chipping away. Charlotte cut the lead down to four points eventually, and then Vucevic re-entered the game.
From that point on in the fourth quarter, things changed swiftly. Because of Vucevic’s ability to knock down the long ball, Charlotte had to respect him beyond the three-point line, defensively.
That allows the Bulls offense to move to the best of their ability. The ball movement was beautiful after Vucevic re-entered the game, and allowed for a lot of easy buckets for the Bulls.
Chicago ended the game on a 23-13 run and ended up winning by a score of 133-119. Vucevic scored a team-high 30 points to go with 14 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. The Bulls’ big three combined for 83 points between Vucevic’s 30, DeMar DeRozan’s 28 and Zach LaVine’s 25.
It’s safe to say that, if the Bulls get this type of effort out of Vucevic, it is going to be near-impossible to beat them. This is the type of team Bulls fans envisioned when everything came together over the offseason.
The one thing Vucevic has to work on is his defensive switching. If there is any weakness in his game, even when he’s on, that’s it. The first half was still frustrating to watch, with Vucevic falling behind on switching off screens and attempting to stick with his man.
If Vucevic can improve just a tad in that area, his game is up there with the likes of Nikola Jokic. He’s truly the key to the Bulls maintaining their winning ways and an eventual playoff run.