BacktoBackYAM

That’s two wins in a row for our beloved Bulls! An overtime 119-111 victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night, and a 104-102 escape Saturday evening over the New York Knicks = win streak! These two victories are a product of good play from the young guys, the return of David Nwaba and Niko Mirotic, and a sign that the Bulls are learning how to win.

Strong play from Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen are the reason the Bulls have this modest win streak.

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Dunn goes strong to the hoop. Photo from Pippenainteasy.com
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Lauri blocks Porzingis. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Kris Dunn was phenomenal against both the Hornets and the Knicks, putting together back to back complete games. In Charlotte, he was the catalyst for the Bulls on both the offensive and defensive sides of the court. He has looked like a viable starting point guard these last few weeks, and really looked like he was comfortable, and belonged in that role with the last two victories. His confidence is high right now, and while he is still making some mistakes, he is playing at a slower, more controlled pace. Dunn is seeing the floor better, connecting on passes that he had been missing the first couple months of the season. In short, Dunn hasn’t been the reckless, full speed ahead, turnover machine of the last few months, he is maturing and improving.

DunnVsCHA

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Kris Dunn vs Charlotte and New York. Stats by NBA.com

Likewise, Lauri Markkanen seems to have shaken out of his slump. He has been attacking the basket, rather than settling for three pointers, and getting easy points in the paint seems to have raised his confidence. He doesn’t look like he is feeling out his shot anymore, he isn’t thinking about it, he is just playing and shooting on instinct.

MarkVsCHA

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Markkanen vs Charlotte and New York. Stats by NBA.com

On Saturday, Markkanen went head-to-head with the Knicks young star, Kristaps Porzingis, and held his own. His height and length on defense proved to be a new challenge for Porzingis, who had an uncharacteristically poor outing against the Bulls. Porzingis habitually uses his 7’3” body, freakish speed and athleticism to make the opposing teams big men look foolish, but not Markkanen. He stayed with Porzingis step for step much of the night, and seemed to relish the challenge of defending a possible MVP candidate.

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Niko boxing out former Bull Doug McDermott. Photo by sportingnews.com

The Bulls roster is slowly coming back to full health. Niko Mirotic returned to the lineup on Friday against the Hornets. He played some meaningful minutes as Lauri Markkanens’ back up, but looked rusty, only scoring 6 points on 2-7 shooting from the field. He made up for his poor performance on Saturday though; he led the team in scoring against the Knicks with 19 points, draining three pointers with impunity (5-8 from beyond the arc). It was Niko at his best, and it’s what the Bulls need him to do if they are going to have any hope of trading him this season. He brings much needed scoring off the bench and he plays decent enough defense that he would be very attractive trade bait for a playoff contender. It must also be noted, as it has by so many other people, the Bulls are 2-0 in games Mirotic has played in this season.

The other Bull to have recently returned from injury is David Nwaba, or, as I have nicknamed him, David Nwowza! Coach Fred Hoiberg might have to reinstate Nwaba back into the starting lineup, that is how well he has been playing of late. He is the Bulls only source of fast break points, he slashes to the rim, he draws fouls (doesn’t hit a lot of free throws, but then no one is perfect), and he is a tenacious defender, leading the team in blocks per game (0.9 blocks per game).

Unfortunately, Hoiberg might not be able to take Nwaba off of the second unit. He brings such a spark off the bench that it makes him difficult to replace. That’s where Niko comes in. If (and this is the same “if” that has haunted the entirety of Nikos’ career) Niko can be consistently productive, scoring off the bench, then it would allow Hoiberg to move Nwaba into the starting lineup again. Nwowza is athletic, dynamic, and energetic. He is one of the most consistent players on the team and deserves to be a starter. His hard work and humble origin make him incredibly easy to root for… and he makes the dunks.

All in all, these two games show that this young, rebuilding squad is learning how to win close games. More importantly, it was the play of Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn down the stretch that led to the wins. In the last week and a half, the Bulls have lost to both the Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings by 1 point, the Indiana Pacers by 2 points, and the Phoenix Suns by 5 points. Close losses can demoralize even the most seasoned of NBA veterans. It speaks to the character of the team that they were able finish a couple close games with wins after such a demoralizing stretch of play. The Bulls may not win very many more games this year, but these back-to-back victories are important stepping stones in the overall development of the team.

The Worst Records in the NBA:

1. Chicago Bulls: 5-20 .200

2. Atlanta Hawks: 6-19 .240

3. Dallas Mavericks: 7-19 .269

4. Memphis Grizzlies: 8-18 .308

5. Sacramento Kings: 8-17 .320