Zach LaVine leads red-hot Bulls against Celtics

NBA Basketball

Zach LaVine and the new-look Chicago Bulls will try to carry their early season success into November as they hit the road to take on Jayson Tatum and the scuffling Boston Celtics on Monday night.

Behind cornerstone LaVine and free-agent signing DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls have reinvented themselves as a threat in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago has won five of its first six games, including 107-99 against the Utah Jazz on Saturday.

“When you have a great group of guys, it makes going to work easy,” said DeRozan, who led all scorers with 32 points vs. Utah. “Everyone (is) comfortable with each other, and it shows when we step out there on the court.”

LaVine chipped in 26 points to help the Bulls hand the Jazz their first loss of the young season. Through six games, LaVine (25.5 points per game) and DeRozan (23.7) are averaging a combined 49.2 points — nearly half of Chicago’s average of 106.7 points per game.

LaVine’s strong start has come while the All-Star guard has been less than 100 percent healthy after suffering a sprained left thumb — an injury that has required him to wear a brace on his non-shooting hand.

“I think Zach’s the kind of guy that when he steps between the lines, he’s not going to really make a lot of excuses,” said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. “I don’t think he’s himself, personally. … I think he’s trying to figure out how to play with that brace on his hand.”

Boston hasn’t played up to its recent standard of success amid its first 2-4 start since the 2013-14 season. The Celtics are coming off back-to-back losses to the Washington Wizards — most recently 115-112 in double overtime on the road Saturday.

Jaylen Brown had 34 points and Jayson Tatum totaled 27 and a career-high 15 rebounds in Saturday’s loss, but the two Boston All-Stars didn’t receive enough help from their supporting cast to pull out a victory.

Aside from Josh Richardson’s season-high 18 points off the bench, no other Celtics’ player had more than eight points. As a team, Boston missed its first 20 attempts from 3-point range and finished just 2-of-26 from long distance in the defeat.

Despite the loss, first-year Celtics coach Ime Udoka was encouraged by his team’s effort on defense after publicly criticizing his players’ focus after their 116-107 home loss to the Wizards on Wednesday.

“I challenged them and they responded,” Udoka said. “They accepted the challenge, and they played extremely hard tonight. No complaining about that at all; you just wish the offensive end would have caught up to our defense.”

In the loss Wednesday, Brown finished with just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting — leading Udoka to call his inconsistent play “mind-boggling.” On Saturday, Brown went 14-of-24 from the field and raised his scoring average to 26.4 points — second only on the team to Tatum’s 26.7 points per game.

“We’ve got to keep that (effort) up,” Brown said. “Get ready to battle again on Monday. We’ve got to knock some shots down and be ready to guard.”

–Field Level Media

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