Only 30 games into the season, it feels a little foolish to call any matchup a "must-win" at this point. And yet, that's exactly how last night felt as the Chicago Bulls hosted the San Antonio Spurs. Owners of a 4-22 record, the Spurs are simply not performing at a competent level and are exactly the type of team the Bulls have to consistently beat if they have any hope of climbing back out of the hole they dug for themselves.
Fortunately, Chicago came to play last night, blowing the lid off the game with a 37-point performance in the fourth quarter to cruise to a confident 114-95 victory. This marks the Bulls' 8th win in their last 11 games, while the Spurs have dropped a mind-numbing 21 of their last 22.
Coby White led the way once again last night with 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting, while DeMar DeRozan was close behind with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting. Nikola Vucevic, Andre Drummond, and Ayo Dosunmu also scored in the double digits, but the real surprise was Patrick Williams, who dropped 18 points while shooting a red-hot 7-for-11 from the field.
This well-rounded effort was enough to give Chicago an edge when it mattered most. It was once a rarity to see this roster firing on all cylinders, but it has become increasingly common as of late, a trend that has noticeably picked up in the absence of All-Star shooting guard Zach LaVine.
The Bulls are surging back up the standings, but still have a lot left to prove to be taken seriously as playoff contenders.
Chicago now has an impressive 66.7% win rate without LaVine on the year, a feat that deserves even more credit when you look at the competition the Bulls have played. Playing a combined seven games against the Bucks, Nuggets, 76ers, Lakers, and Heat, the Bulls seemed to be on the brink of disaster and had no right churning out a winning record over this stretch.
Despite all that adversity, the Bulls still managed to win four of those seven games and cleaned house against inferior opponents in New Orleans, San Antonio (twice), and Charlotte. This has helped Chicago gain ground on their competition in the Eastern Conference playoff race, as Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Orlando all currently hold losing records in their last 10 games, while Indiana is treading water. Only Boston and Milwaukee have been better than Chicago over this stretch.
With games against the Cavaliers, Hawks, and Pacers next up on the schedule, the Bulls have a great chance to capitalize and climb back into the playoff race. As it currently stands, Chicago is only 0.5 games back from the play-in tournament and 3.5 games behind the 6th seed and a guaranteed playoff entry.
The Bulls' biggest obstacle on the road to the playoffs may not be their opponents, however, but rather finding a way to reincorporate LaVine into the rotation without causing friction. In the very possible event the front office cannot find a suitable trade for Zach, they'll have to convince him to buy back into what this team is building before our very eyes. If he buys in, the Bulls have more than enough ammunition to make a playoff push; if he doesn't, he may just be the match that detonates this ticking time bomb of a roster.