Despite four sets of back-to-backs in the first three weeks of the season,the Chicago Bulls entered their matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night at the United Center at 6-6.
Two-time All-Star Zach LaVine missed four of those 12 games, sitting out for load management after undergoing offseason surgery on his left knee.
Coming off his first 30-point game of the season, LaVine was back in the starting lineup Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans, and center Andre Drummond returned after missing six games because of a strained left shoulder.
LaVine scored 23 points on 9-for-22 shooting, but the Pelicans finished strong for a 115-111 victory, sending the Bulls to their third loss in four games.
DeMar DeRozan led all scorers with 33 points on 14-for-26 shooting, and Nikola Vučević had 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Bulls entered the final quarter leading 82-79, and the teams battled to the end. After Vučević hit a 3-pointer off a Goran Dragić assist to give the Bulls a 103-102 lead with 2 minutes, 46 seconds remaining, CJ McCollum put the Pelicans back in front by a point before DeRozan and Brandon Ingram traded baskets.
DeRozan hit two free-throws, but Ingram answered with a 3-pointer. A DeRozan dunk tied the game at 109 with 56.6 seconds left before Ingram sank a 19-foot jumper. DeRozan’s turnover with 17.4 seconds remaining helped the Pelicans hold on for the win.
Ingram scored a team-high 22 points, Jonas Valančiūnas added 21 and Zion Williamson 19 for the Pelicans, who have won three straight and six of seven.
The Bulls started quickly, jumping to a 14-6 lead. But the Pelicans went on their own 14-6 run to tie the game at 20 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
The Bulls led by as many as 11 points in the first half but quickly coughed up the lead after struggling from 3-point range. They went into the locker room down 52-50.
The Pelicans opened the third quarter with a 17-8 run but cooled off, and the Bulls closed the gap. Behind a few LaVine baskets and Derozan getting to the free-throw line, the Bulls rallied and entered the fourth with a three-point lead.
Before the game, coach Billy Donovan elaborated on whether the team wanted LaVine to take more 3-pointers.
“No, we still want him to attack the rim,” Donovan said. “When you go back and you look at last year and you watch film and those kinds of things, clearly we were a team that did not take a high volume of 3-point shots in relationship to the rest of the league. I think you can overcome that.
“But we’ve got an elite, elite shooter clearly on catch-and-shoot opportunities — look at his statistics, he’s been one of the league leaders. He’s got opportunities to take ‘em and he just needs to let ‘em go. He’s too good. And that’s maybe a little bit of an adjustment for him.”
LaVine shot 3 of 12 on 3-pointers, part of a 7-for-27 night from long range for the Bulls. But the Pelicans were worse, missing 16 of 19 3s (15.8%).
The Bulls are 1-3 without LaVine this season, including Sunday’s game in Toronto in the first of a back-to-back against the Raptors. He scored a season-high 30 the next night at the United Center.
The Bulls don’t have another back-to-back until Dec. 10, and LaVine is expected to be in the lineup more regularly, giving them hope he will find his rhythm and they will find their offensive identity.