LOS ANGELES (AFP) – DeMar DeRozan notched his eighth straight game with at least 35 points to power the Chicago Bulls to a 112-108 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday as the NBA returned to action after its All-Star break.
DeRozan scored 37 points and pulled down six rebounds, capping his night with the game-winner in Chicago’s sixth straight victory.
The Hawks were up 108-107 when DeRozan put Chicago in front with a turnaround jump shot. Fouled on the play by Bogdan Bogdanovic, DeRozan converted the free throw, and with 15 seconds remaining, Bogdanovic missed Atlanta’s final attempt.
“You don’t want to be down and have the pressure on yourself to pull out a game, (but) when you’re in those moments, you’ve got to take it on,” DeRozan said. “I love the moments. I love the challenge. I love the opportunity. It’s fun for me.”
The victory saw the Bulls edge half a game ahead of Miami for the Eastern Conference lead.
DeRozan, 32, has been the Bulls’ driving force, re-emerging this season as a formidable scorer.
The former Raptors and Spurs forward returned to the All-Star Game last Sunday and his exploits have him in the Most Valuable Player conversation.
His eight straight games of 35 points or more are just two shy of the best such streak in Bulls history, set in 1986 by NBA icon Michael Jordan.
Only five other players have had such a streak in the NBA: Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and James Harden.
“That’s greatness right there,” said Tristan Thompson, who scored 11 points off the bench in his Bulls debut.
The Phoenix Suns, playing their first game since losing veteran point guard Chris Paul for up to eight weeks with a broken thumb, beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 124-104.
Devin Booker scored 25 points and handed out 12 assists with six steals for Phoenix – who improved their league-leading record to 49-10.
“I thought Devin managed the game well,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “You look at his assist numbers, he got off the ball and was finding guys at the right times. I thought his steal-out defence was phenomenal.”
The Golden State Warriors returned with a bang from the All-Star break, routing the Portland Trail Blazers 132-95.
Stephen Curry, who scored 50 points in the mid-season exhibition, scored 18 points and handed out 14 assists. Klay Thompson also scored 18 as the Warriors – who had lost four of their last five before the All-Star break – had eight players in double figures.
“Good start to the last home stretch,” Curry said. “We’ve got to keep building.”
Elsewhere, the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-114. D’Angelo Russell scored 37 points and handed out nine assists for the Timberwolves.
Ja Morant scored 20 points for the Grizzlies but was sidelined briefly after hurting his left leg in the third quarter as he tried to dribble around an opponent on a fast break.
Morant spent several minutes on the bench with a sore left thigh before departing for the locker room. He returned in the final quarter but missed a potential game-tying three-pointer with five seconds remaining.
Boston’s Jayson Tatum starred in Brooklyn, scoring 30 points to lead the Celtics to a 129-106 rout of a Nets team playing without stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and with new acquisition Ben Simmons still on the bench.
Seth Curry, who arrived with Simmons in the trade that sent James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers, led the Nets with 22 points, but Brooklyn suffered their 13th defeat in their last 15 games.
In Detroit, the Pistons stunned the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-103. Rookie Cade Cunningham sealed the win with four late free throws, finishing with 17 points.