The Chicago Bulls pursue their fifth consecutive win but will do so without a key contributor on Wednesday when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Chicago won its fourth straight on Monday, 109-97 triumph over Denver and played without DeMar DeRozan. The Bulls’ leading scorer at 26.4 points per game entered health and safety protocols ahead of the contest.
DeRozan will not travel with the team to Cleveland.
Chicago was already without Coby White and Javonte Green due to COVID protocols.
“You’re not going to replace what he does, especially at the level of play that he’s playing right now,” Zach LaVine said of DeRozan. “But guys will step up and we can compete for each other and still be a really good team. I think we showed that tonight.”
LaVine scored 32 points to pick up the slack, while Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic recorded identical double-doubles of 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Vucevic, a two-time All-Star during his time in Orlando, has posted three double-doubles since returning from his own stint in the health and safety protocols on Nov. 24. He has scored at least 20 points in three of Chicago’s four wins during the current winning streak, including 30 with 14 rebounds in a Nov. 29 defeat of Charlotte.
Vucevic was among all five starters to score in double figures on Monday, including rookie Ayo Dosunmu, who finished with 11 points playing an increased role with the assorted absences.
“He wants to get better. He wants to grow,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said afterward. “I really, really respect that about him.”
Cleveland welcomes Chicago on a two-game slump after having its own four-game winning streak snapped by Utah on Sunday.
The Cavaliers rallied from down 15 points in the fourth quarter to take a 106-104 lead when Darius Garland scored five of his 31 points in succession. However, Utah outscored Cleveland down the stretch, 5-2.
Garland finished with just 10 points in the second leg of Cleveland’s back-to-back, a 112-104 loss Monday at reigning NBA champion Milwaukee.
Jarrett Allen and Lauri Markkanen scored 25 and 20 points, respectively, in that loss.
Cleveland fought to overcome a second straight fourth-quarter deficit of double digits on Monday and pulled within two points before Milwaukee took control down the stretch.
“Toward the end of the game, we got into our rhythm,” Allen said in his postgame press conference.
In the four victories preceding Cleveland’s two most recent defeats, the Cavaliers built their own double-digit advantages. Cleveland won each of those games by at least 13 points and held three of the four opponents to fewer than 100 points.
The Cavaliers boast the NBA’s second-best scoring defense at 102.4 points allowed per game.
While Chicago is adjusting for the stretch DeRozan is sidelined, Cleveland has spent the last two weeks acclimating to play without Collin Sexton.
The 16-point per game scorer suffered a torn meniscus in his knee, likely requiring season-ending surgery.
Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff has used a big starting lineup in recent outings, with Allen, Markkanen and Evan Mobley joining guards Garland and Isaac Okoro.