CHICAGO — For a team that started the season divided by a fistfight between teammates Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis, the Chicago Bulls’ secret of success of late has been, ironically, team chemistry.
The Bulls have won nine of their past 11 games heading into Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. The Bulls have won their last two games, including a come-from-behind victory over the New York Knicks on Wednesday when they again got contributions from a variety of sources.
Kris Dunn sparked the latest win but has seen his teammates back each other up as Chicago has played through adversity. In Wednesday’s win, the Bulls erased a 15-point deficit to knock off the Knicks, who managed only 14 fourth-quarter points.
“We have had a lot of growth in finding a way to (win close games),” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Wednesday. “It’s very important to try to find the guys that can help win close games for you, and we had a couple of big shots.”
After Mirotic took on a starring role during Chicago’s seven-game winning streak earlier this month, Dunn has come up with big shots in key moments, as have rookie Lauri Markkanen and Justin Holiday.
The Bulls (12-22) have learned to maintain their composure — especially in the fourth quarter — which has been a marked improvement from earlier this season. During a stretch when Chicago dropped 20 of its first 23 games — including 10 straight — Bulls players often dropped their heads when adversity hit.
Now, Hoiberg has seen his team mature through the tough times, which has been paying off in recent weeks.
Dunn says the key is sticking together.
“Team chemistry is a big thing when it comes to a team winning,” Dunn said Wednesday. “Everyone has to be on the same page — from the coaching staff to the team — everybody’s got to be positive. And you can see it in the locker room, we all like one another. We’re starting to jell.”
The Pacers (19-16) enter Friday’s game having lost two in a row. They dropped a 98-94 decision to Dallas on Wednesday when they failed to put together a quality possession in the final minute. Indiana played without guard Victor Oladipo, who missed Wednesday’s game with knee soreness.
Oladipo, who is averaging 24.9 points, has missed two games this season with the knee injury and the severity of the ailment is unknown. He is questionable for Friday’s game.
Regardless of whether Indiana will have Oladipo against the Bulls, Lance Stephenson — who started for Oladipo against the Mavericks — said others must be ready to take on a key role when the Pacers need someone to hit a shot.
That wasn’t the case against Dallas.
“Without Victor Oladipo, none of our guys were ready for that moment,” Stephenson told the Indianapolis Star after he scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in his second start of the year.
The Pacers couldn’t finish off Wednesday’s game after they led by six points with five minutes to play. Now, as they prepare to face the streaking Bulls, finding ways to execute against a team that has figured out how to win close games will be of utmost importance.
Especially late and defensively — an area where the Pacers have struggled.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to win the game regardless of whether (Oladipo) is out there or not,” guard Darren Collison said Wednesday, according to the Star.