Zach LaVine is poised to make his return to the floor on Thursday night in Charlotte after missing the past 11 games in NBA health and safety protocols. He shined light on what his past few weeks looked like when speaking to the media on Wednesday.
Zach's back! So unpack, because you know this means he'll attack.
"Come back and play my game and be me," a-finally-out-of-Covid-quarantine Zach LaVine told reporters before the Bulls departed for Thursday's game in Charlotte. "I'm not going to be going out there and try and overdue it, but obviously I'm coming back to help. Do everything I can, whatever it takes. From what I know I'm all the way back. I'm good to go."
We all know Zach's no hack, so he's not about to be cutting anyone slack. And if he has to talk some smack, let them be taken aback. Even if it were Jacque Chirac.
I know, I know, I got a little carried away. But to quote the Pointer Sisters, I'm so excited.
Zach LaVine was all smiles as he returned to practice on Wednesday.
LaVine's return after missing 11 games with the accompanying expected return of Nikola Vucevic, at least, promises some entertaining basketball from the Bulls, if not necessarily that elusive last play-in slot.
The Bulls still have a chance, albeit tenuous now in 12th place at 26-39 after having fallen four games behind the streaking Washington Wizards.
"We were anywhere from eighth to 10th (in the Eastern Conference) the whole season, and to see us slip in the standings has been tough," LaVine agreed. "Hopefully I can come back and help. You have to give some credit to some of the other teams. They went on runs. I think Washington is like 9-1. The Pacers have been playing above .500 or around it. Obviously, the games are stacked up against you. But from what I've been telling guys, you can't worry about that. Let's just go out there and take care of our job. If we go out there and take care of the wins, let the pieces fall where they may. You can't dwell and depend on other teams. We've got to take care of our business. That's why I'm coming back. I'm not somebody that's going to sit here and try and be all hope is lost. I'm going to come here and try and do my job."
Welcome back, Zach.
The Bulls went 4-7 in LaVine's absence and now have lost four straight games. But the quality of play mostly has been desultory, especially lately. The Bulls without LaVine have become the worst offensive team in the league, failing to score 100 points in the last four games and averaging 102.7 in LaVine's absence. That's 30th in the league, also 30th in free throw attempts and 26th in three-point shooting.
No offense to the next-man-up brigade, but it's not serendipity that LaVine and Vucevic happen to be the top scorers on the team, averaging more than 50 points combined. It's actually remarkable the Bulls without them have scored as many points as they have without even a 15-point career scorer.
I don't mean to get too technical, but Zach and Vooch are better basketball players than the other guys. Sure, they're all professionals and these remaining Bulls do try harder than most, the relentless comebacks from huge deficits evidence of their desire. If not destiny. They are professionals, but so are the cooks at Papa John's. But you'd probably prefer your saltimbocca prepared by someone more expert and accomplished.
LaVine said he tested positive for Covid, though was at a loss—at least something in common with his teammates the last few weeks—about how he contracted the virus. LaVine tends to be cautious and careful, living quietly in Chicago with his fiancee. But exposure despite all the NBA's precautions is understandable considering how much the teams are traveling around the country in compressed schedules. It's actually shocking more players have not been infected. Four more leaguewide were reported positive Wednesday.
"I think I'm one of the more careful guys and I did everything the right way, and obviously I got put into (the protocol)," said LaVine. "It's just scary, and I'm thankful that no one else (on the team or family) got it and no one else had contact tracing from it as well. That was a good thing.
"I've been in the basement of my house for two weeks," LaVine reported. "It's been real boring. Watched a whole bunch of movies. Worked on my golf swing. What else did I do? Played video games. Got tired of playing video games (which shows others ways how devilish this pandemic can be). Played phone games with my fiancé. She was being a nurse to me, delivering food up and down the stairs. I did everything to try to keep me from going insane."
LaVine a week or so back sent out a tweet expressing annoyance, which he later deleted.
"I was just frustrated," LaVine admitted. "‘Cause the ranges vary or it was varied for some of the players. For me, it just felt like it was taking a really long time. I was out for almost four weeks. Some guys came back after 10 or 12 days. I don't want to put all the blame on the league because, obviously, I have to go through certain things. So I was just more frustrated that I couldn't go out there and compete and help the team win."
LaVine said he had some mild symptoms, mostly occasional headaches. But fortunately nothing particularly debilitating.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan said he'd assess LaVine's conditioning during the Charlotte game, though LaVine said he didn't expect to be on a minutes limitation and looked forward to playing his regular rotation.
"I think I'm cleared to go," LaVine said. "Whatever my minutes will be is up to coach, but from my standpoint I think I should be playing my normal minutes I feel like.''
LaVine was averaging 27.5 per game and had missed just one game all season when he last played April 14. He had been averaging 33 points per game the previous four with his first 50-point game. He was in consideration for all-league status averaging more than five assists and five rebounds as well as shooting more than 50 percent overall and 42 percent on threes.
Though the Bulls stumbled immediately after the profusion of March trades with Donovan testing different lineups and rotations, they appeared to be getting close to uniting to hold onto one of the last play-in spots. That evaporated in the play of the Wizards and the increasing inefficiency of the team without LaVine and then the last two games without Vucevic.
"When you're sitting there, you can't do anything about it," LaVine lamented. "In my position, all I can do is watch. I can't be around the team. The best you can do is communicate through phone calls and texts. Earlier in the season, it was easier for me to fight through an ankle injury. I had a grade 2 ankle sprain. I could play through that. This is something I couldn't fight and try to play through. That's what kind of hurt me the most.
"In all honestly," LaVine acknowledged, "we weren't in great playoff contention when I was playing, either. We still need to work on things. But I think I could've helped win some games. If that conversation comes up (about a shutdown), it won't be coming from me. I want to at least be able to try to get some type of games in and try to fight for something at the end of the season. I've missed 11 games. I want to go out there and play.
"It's not to say we've been playing bad. But we've been down some guys," LaVine noted. "Especially at times where we weren't taking care of business early on in the season and getting the wins we were supposed to, this is the predicament that we put ourselves in. There's nobody really to blame but us. We have to finish out the season strong. It's unfortunate, but I'm not somebody to close the door on something that's not officially over. I'm going to try to fight for everything that I have."
As long as Zach sees there's still a crack left open in the door to the play-in. And beyond. Zach will deal with the flack.