It was just a couple of months ago that Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic was searching for answers from the basketball gods, saying that he’d “never been through a slump like this” during an underwhelming start to the season. It’s safe to say those days are over, as Vucevic has been on absolute tear of late, punctuating his hot stretch with a dominant performance in the Bulls’ 122-115 road victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.
Vucevic put up 36 points, 17 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the win, becoming the first Bulls player since Michael Jordan to have at least 35 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in a game, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Vucevic, who went 16-for-21 from the field, took advantage of a Pacers team with no true centers available, as 6-foot-5 Terry Taylor guarded him for most of the night. The Chicago big man is averaging nearly five 3-point attempts per game this season, but the significant height advantage allowed him to do much of his work inside on Friday, going just 1-for-2 from 3-point range.
The Bulls needed every bit of Vucevic’s effort due to a shortage of personnel. In addition to Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, who are out with long-term injuries, Chicago was also without All-Star Zach LaVine and backup guard Coby White for the Indiana game.
After a rough start to the season, Vucevic has averaged 24.1 points, 14.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.6 blocks over his last seven games. He’s also been incredibly efficient, shooting 63 percent from the field and 41 percent from the 3-point line. That’s in stark contrast to the way this season began, with Vucevic averaging 15.8 points on 42 percent field goals and 35 percent 3-pointers over his first 26 games.
Despite significant injuries, the Bulls have managed to remain in the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference at 33-19, and that’s largely due to Vucevic’s recent turnaround. If Ball and Caruso can return at full strength to provide some defensive stability, Chicago is going to be a formidable playoff opponent.