Color Zach LaVine unsurprised about the Chicago Bulls’ 3-2 West Coast road trip without center Nikola Vucevic, who remains in the NBA’s health and safety protocols for COVID-19.
“We’re a resilient team,” LaVine said. “If there’s a bump in the road, we respond the right way.”
The Bulls hope to continue that trend Sunday as they open an abbreviated homestand of two games in as many nights when they host the New York Knicks. LaVine continued to spark the team away from home, capping the trip by scoring 12 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter to key Friday’s 114-108 victory at Denver.
“There were some plays he was a little disappointed with (earlier),” Chicago coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s what he does: He becomes even more focused. He made some really remarkable plays and in many ways carried us.
“For me, it’s remarkable to watch him. He’s one of the best tough-shot makers in the league.”
LaVine has finished with 20 or more points in 15 of Chicago’s 16 games this season. LaVine is averaging 26.8 points per game and DeMar DeRozan is averaging 26.6 for Chicago, which also is benefiting from strong backcourt play from Lonzo Ball, who is shooting 57.1 percent over the past three games.
The Knicks have won two of three after topping the skidding Houston Rockets on Saturday night. Alec Burks scored 17 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help New York overcome a one-point deficit entering the final period and emerge with a 106-99 win.
Julius Randle posted a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds and was one of five Knicks to score in double figures.
“I like the way we fought,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I like the way we found a way to win in the end.”
New York’s Taj Gibson, a former member of the Bulls, was held out of the game with a groin injury. Frontcourt mate Nerlens Noel, meanwhile, returned from a four-game absence due to right knee injury, contributing six rebounds and three blocks in 29 minutes.
“Nerlens gives you elite rim protection, great decision-making. Multiple effort guy,” Thibodeau said. “So you couldn’t ask anything more form your center. He doesn’t give up on plays, he doesn’t give in. So that’s huge.”
Thibodeau said he will consult with Kemba Walker on Sunday morning about whether he’ll be able to play in the second leg of a back-to-back as Walker works back from injury.
“If he feels good,” Thibodeau said, “he’ll go. … You trust Kemba.”
The visiting Knicks edged the Bulls 104-103 on Oct. 28 behind a potent one-two punch from Walker (21 points) and R.J. Barrett (20). Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 16 rebounds while finishing one assist shy of a triple-double.
Chicago closed the game on a 12-0 run before the Knicks defense stopped DeRozan at the buzzer to preserve the win, their third straight in the series. LaVine paced Chicago with 25 points.
The Bulls are slated to visit the Knicks on Dec. 2 and March 28.
–Field Level Media