Sports

New-look Bulls off to best start since 1996-97

The Chicago Bulls are off to the franchise’s best start since the 1996-97 season.

They improved to 4-0 on Monday night with a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena, making Chicago the last remaining unbeaten team in the Eastern Conference. After overhauling their roster in free agency, the Bulls are already reaping the benefits from some of their biggest offseason additions.

Lonzo Ball knocked down five 3-pointers for 15 points and five assists. Alex Caruso added eight points and collected four steals off the bench, adding to the Bulls league-leading 41 steals so far this season. And DeMar DeRozan, who spent the first nine years of his career in Toronto, scored 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, including some key buckets down the stretch to stabilize the Bulls and quell a Raptors comeback.

Combine those performances with 22 points from Zach LaVine and the Bulls are off to their hottest start in 25 years.

“Part of the reason why I even chose to come to Chicago was everyone was eager to be successful, to want to win,” DeRozan said after Monday’s game. “Everybody had that chip on their shoulder, from the city to the organization to the players that I spoke to.

“That was everybody’s mindset, it’s all about winning now. We’re not in a development stage, we want to win now.”

The Bulls are winning now, but their upcoming schedule could provide a better gauge of how competitive this team can be for the long haul. After victories over the Pistons (twice), Pelicans and Raptors, their next six games — the Knicks, Jazz, Celtics, Sixers (twice) and Nets — should provide a stiffer test.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” DeRozan said. “We’ve got a lot more to clean up, to learn. It’s a long season, man. [The 4-0 start] is great, but we’ve got a lot more basketball to go. We can’t carry this record like it’s some kind of badge of honor; we’ve got to understand that the next game is going to be even harder.”

Still, the Bulls have started 4-0 four times in franchise history and each time prior to this season, Michael Jordan was on the team.

The Bulls had not even been over .500 at any point during a season since March 2017. LaVine had never been a part of a four-game winning streak at any point during his NBA career (he did win five in a row with Team USA during the Olympics).

And the Bulls can be encouraged that they have gotten off to such a fast start despite incorporating so many new players. Only three players — LaVine, Coby White and Patrick Williams — who started the season on last year’s roster are still on this team, but the new players, headlined by DeRozan and Ball, have meshed well with LaVine.

“I think we have a lot of high-character guys, we all want to win and we want to win together,” Ball said. “I think when you have a bunch of guys on the same team with the same common goal and the same mindset it makes it easier for the chemistry to click. That’s what’s going on.”

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