Each time he breezed by the New York Knicks’ bench after scoring Monday night, the Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine hardly cast a glance at Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.
As Chicago seeks a sweep Wednesday night of its home back-to-back against New York, LaVine says he won’t reverse course when it comes to his former coach, who once traded him from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Bulls.
“Me and Thibs are cool,” LaVine said. “Playing against old coaches, I’m going out there to win. It’s not a grudge thing for me. My grudge game was the first time we played against the Timberwolves. I got that out of my system.”
LaVine scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer and two free throws to key a 10-2 run to close the game. Teammate Lauri Markkanen, who with LaVine was part of the Bulls’ haul from the Timberwolves’ trade, scored 30 points as the Bulls snapped a three-game losing streak.
Stringing together wins could hinge on perimeter shooting again.
While the Knicks shot just 6-for-29 from 3-point range, the Bulls were 11-for-34, with Markkanen hitting six threes.
He scored a season-high 31 points in Saturday’s narrow 123-122 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in the opener of a three-game homestand.
“We all know Lauri’s extremely talented,” LaVine said. “We’re seeing his full game right now.”
No argument from Markkanen, a 7-footer who is working to contribute on both ends of the floor.
“We moved the ball. We got good looks,” Markkanen said. “I think it all started from defense. We were getting stops. That helps our offense.”
Thibodeau certainly can attest to the importance of defense, not only in creating transition opportunities but in fueling a team altogether.
In the past two games, the Knicks have given up 129 and 110 points to yield to the Lakers the title of NBA leader in fewest points per game allowed.
New York, which has lost two in a row and five of its past six, still ranked second in that category entering Tuesday, at 104.2 points per game.
“Just not the effort that we’re capable of,” Thibodeau said Monday. “I know that we have the makings of a very good defensive team, and it’s when we’re concentrating and we’re giving maximum effort (that) we’re usually pretty good.”
To Julius Randle, who flirted with a triple-double Monday while finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, working toward opening each half with more of a flourish only can help.
“I just think we’ve got to mentally lock in and get off to better starts, first and third (quarters),” Randle said. “Specifically the third, we dig ourselves out of holes. We’ve got to come out with more of a sense of urgency.”
The Knicks have been fine-tuning their front-court rotation with the return of Nerlens Noel, who contributed eight points Monday after missing Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers with groin soreness.
The Bulls are 3-6 at home this season.
–Field Level Media