Bulls Observations: Nikola Vučević Dominates Win Over Pacers

Bulls observations: Vučević dominates win over Pacers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Bulls (21-28) took care of business against a shorthanded Indiana Pacers (22-27), winning 113-97 on the road.

Here are 14 observations:

1. Availability report: The Pacers played without Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis. Garrett Temple (hamstring strain) missed his fourth straight contest for the Bulls. And Daniel Theis was absent for personal reasons, though Billy Donvoan said pregame he'll rejoin the team before their next game.

2. Without Sabonis, the typically intimidating Pacers frontcourt was a bit smaller. Doug McDermott started at the power forward spot. The Bulls did well to exploit that fact, generating significant advantages on the glass (57-33, 14-6 offensive) and in second-chance points (24-6, 14-0 in the first half).

3. Lauri Markkanen had his best game since sliding to a bench role post-trade deadline, tallying 15 points, 6 rebounds and a block, hitting three of his four 3-point attempts. Worth noting: With Theis out, Markkanen slid back to a more natural fit at the backup power forward/center spot -- not small forward, as Donovan has had to run him in recent games.

4. Coby White returned to the lineup after a one-game stint on the COVID-19 protocol list, and, like Markkanen, shined as a spark plug. He posted 13 points and 6 assists, shooting 5-for-9.

5. Markkanen and White combined to catalyze a 9-2 run to open the second quarter that pushed the Bulls ahead 39-30. The Bulls went on to win the period 32-21, led 62-49 at the half and maintained a throttlehold on the game from there.

As the Pacers flirted with a comeback spurt early in the fourth quarter, Markkanen and White also spearheaded a 5-0 run (with a Markkanen 3-pointer and White lay-in) that pushed their lead from 97-84 back to 102-84. Together, their final line read: 28 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists -- 10-for-16 overall, 4-for-8 from deep.

6. Nikola Vučević notched his second consecutive first-half double-double, finishing the opening two quarters with 12 points and 11 rebounds. And somehow, it got even better from there. Vučević took the game over on the offensive end of the floor between the second and third quarters with a combination of post and short-roll passing and outside shooting. He notched 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists across those two periods, shooting 3-for-4 from long range.

By game's end, he'd one-upped his impressive performance against the Nets with 32 points, 17 rebounds and 5 assists, shooting 14-for-29 from the field and 4-for-7 from 3-point range. Those point, rebound and 3-point make totals are highs for his now six-game Bulls tenure, in which he now has three double-doubles.

7. But the best part was the ever-progressing pick-and-roll chemistry Vučević flashed in tandem with Zach LaVine. As the Bulls extended their advantage to 23 by the end of the third quarter, the two combined for a number of fruitful possessions using that action.

The threat Vučević poses as a roller, popper and passer on the short-roll makes this such a difficult guard. The more he and LaVine coalesce, the more lethal the Bulls' offense should become.

8. Yes, LaVine's once-sprained ankle appears to be back to normal:

Though his shooting marks (6-for-18 overall, 4-for-12 from distance) fell below his lofty standards, LaVine finished with a balanced 19 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. There were moments of brilliance, but Vučević carried the load.

9. Troy Brown Jr. got another regular rotation run, even with Coby White back in the lineup. He played 14 minutes and flashed more slipperiness fighting through screens and penchant for hustle plays (both traits the Bulls could sorely use). With Temple still sidelined and Theis out a game, Donovan's ultimate preferred rotation is still likely to be determined, but Brown supplanted Denzel Valentine (2 minutes pre-garbage time) on a shorthanded night and fared well, even without shooting particularly well. Donovan's rotation ran nine men deep in the minutes that mattered.

10. Thad Young thrived against the Pacers' shrunken frontcourt. His final line -- 14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, 1 steal -- was typically well-rounded, and he regularly punished mismatches with his scoring and passing.

11. Patrick Williams lived up to the "Paw" moniker in this one, swiping a career-high-tying four steals. In addition to his 10 points (4-for-8 shooting), he also got a few reps running pick-and-roll with Vučević and guarding Caris LeVert.

12. The Bulls finally, as a team, broke out from 3-point range, shooting 14-for-33 (42.4 percent). They shot just 27.7 percent from deep over their last seven games, a span in which they went 1-6.

13. The turnover bug bit back after back-to-back games with single-digit cough-ups. The Bulls committed 21 turnovers in this one -- multiple of which came in an early stretch at the start of the fourth quarter in which the Pacers trimmed a 23-point deficit to 10. But ultimately, they didn't prove overly costly.

14. This was a big result. With a loss, the Bulls would have fallen three games back of the Pacers for the No. 9 seed in the East, and threatened falling into a tie with the Toronto Raptors for 10th/11th. But with the win, the Bulls now trail Indiana by just one game, and have more opportunities ahead to cover ground against competition in their stratosphere.

Up next for the Bulls: A road matchup with the Raptors in Tampa, Fla.

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