The Chicago Bulls took the court for the first time since Dec. 11 on Sunday night after a COVID-19 outbreak on the team forced them to postpone a couple of games. Awaiting them was LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a fun welcoming party, as the Bulls pulled out the 115-110 victory in a back-and-forth shootout between DeMar DeRozan and James. The former won the battle, coming up huge in the clutch with 19 fourth-quarter points.
🚨 DeRozan puts the Bulls in front 🚨<a href="https://twitter.com/Lakers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Lakers</a> 110<a href="https://twitter.com/chicagobulls?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@chicagobulls</a> 111<br><br>15.6 to play: <a href="https://t.co/V0kkYEn6W6">https://t.co/V0kkYEn6W6</a> <a href="https://t.co/52IvLjH7FG">pic.twitter.com/52IvLjH7FG</a>
This wasn't exactly a matchup between full-strength teams. The Bulls were without Zach LaVine, Ayo Dosunmu, Alize Johnson, Stanley Johnson, Troy Brown Jr. and Matt Thomas, all out due to the league's health and safety protocols.
The Lakers, meanwhile, don't have Anthony Davis available at the moment (sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee) to go along with several players out due to the health and safety protocols, including Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley and Malik Monk.
So thin are the Lakers at the moment that Isaiah Thomas—who has now played all of five games in the past two seasons combined—earned his first start. The Lakers signed him to a 10-day contract three days ago. Trevor Ariza also made his season debut for the Lakers after returning from an ankle injury.
One key difference for the two teams dealing with depth issues: While sixth man Carmelo Anthony went off for 21 points for the Lakers, the entirety of the Bulls bench managed just 13 points. Luckily for Chicago, DeRozan made sure it didn't matter.
DeMar DeRozan, CHI: 38 points, six assists
Nikola Vucevic, CHI: 19 points, 13 rebounds
Lonzo Ball, CHI: 19 points, four assists
LeBron James, LAL: 31 points, 14 rebounds, six assists
Russell Westbrook, LAL: 20 points, nine rebounds eight assists
Carmelo Anthony, LAL: 21 points
LeBron Did LeBron Things
The NBA world's microscope is always focused on James' every move, but it's about to be even more dialed in with AD set to miss at least a month.
The Lakers haven't exactly set the world on fire this year, hovering near the .500 mark for much of the season. That makes the stretch without AD all the more crucial as they look to maintain playoff positioning and means James is going to have to play inspired basketball, yet again.
He was excellent Sunday night after a shaky start, putting the Lakers on his back, though DeRozan was better. Even at 36, James can single-handedly steal wins, though he couldn't pull out this one against Chicago.
DeRozan Didn't Seem Rusty
The maestro of the mid-range hadn't played since Dec. 4, just over two weeks, but he sure didn't look it against the Lakers.
As ever, DeRozan used guile to get himself to the line for easy points (16-of-17 from the charity stripe), continuing his excellent season. That was big for a Bulls team that didn't have star 2-guard LaVine available.
The Bulls crushed their offseason, adding players like DeRozan, Ball and Alex Caruso. It's been clear that DeRozan was not only the jewel of that incoming class, but also one of the best offseason additions by any team, period. He showed out yet again Sunday.
The Lakers host the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET on TNT. The Bulls will look to rebound at home against the Houston Rockets on Monday at 8 p.m. ET.