The Chicago Bulls have been battling for a spot in the play-in tournament for the last two weeks without All-Star Zach LaVine due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. LaVine tested positive for Covid-19, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, and the initial timetable for his absence was reported to be at least 10-14 days.
Heading into Wednesday’s game against Tom Thibodeau’s New York Knicks, the Bulls had performed admirably in LaVine’s absence, going 4-3 over seven games. With LaVine hitting that 14-day mark, the hope was that he could return Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Instead, it was nothing but bad news for Chicago on Wednesday.
First, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan revealed that LaVine “is probably gonna take another week,” per Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports Chicago.
“There will be things that he’ll have to do going into this week that are set by the league in terms of the policies and protocols,” Donovan said. “I would say that we probably have a much, much better idea of when his return would be probably after this week is completed, based on what he has to do with the protocols.”
This would suggest LaVine will miss Friday’s game against the Bucks in Chicago, Saturday’s game in Atlanta against the Hawks and Monday’s tilt at home against the Philadelphia 76ers. A hopeful return would then come on the road against the Charlotte Hornets next Thursday.
Needless to say, LaVine isn’t thrilled about this development. He tweeted and then deleted this complaint about the NBA’s health and safety protocols: “These protocols are for the BIRDS I’m good….”
It’s only natural for LaVine to be frustrated as he watches his team fight for the postseason without him. He had to be stewing Wednesday night as his Bulls suffered a 113-94 loss to the Knicks, with an ugly fourth quarter dooming Chicago. LaVine’s dynamic scoring ability was missed against a physical Knicks defense.
Making matters worse, the red-hot Washington Wizards came up with a big win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, moving them back to two games ahead of the Bulls in the race for the No. 10 seed. Chicago’s 26-36 record matches the Toronto Raptors.
While the Bulls do own the tiebreakers over both of these teams, time is running out on their season with 10 games left. The schedule looks rather daunting on paper, especially with LaVine set to miss another week.
Chicago has done relatively well to stay afloat without LaVine, with Nikola Vucevic carrying the offensive load and the defense playing well in spurts. With a Vucevic-centric offense, the Bulls have slowed things down and shared the ball well, leading the NBA in assist percentage over these last eight games. While the offense as a whole has been below average during this span, it hasn’t totally tanked, giving Chicago the chance to remain competitive. Coby White also deserves some credit for stepping up his play in his return to the starting lineup.
However, as respectable as the Bulls have been without their All-Star guard, they’re going to need to stack some wins quickly. LaVine is champing at the bit to get back out there, but it might be too late by the time he does.
LaVine and the Bulls just have to hope they can stay within striking distance and then make one final push when he returns. If they fall short, they will need some lottery luck (currently a 23.5% chance to get in the top four) to keep their first-round pick.