Zach LaVine enters Health and Safety protocols, questionable for Game 5

The All-Star guard did not travel with the team, along with Alex Caruso (concussion protocol), on Tuesday but was not ruled out for Chicago's elimination game on Wednesday.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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You've got to like the Bulls confidence even heading to Milwaukee Wednesday for Game 5 of the first-round playoff series trailing 3-1. They're not even bringing along Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso.

Perhaps I didn't put that exactly right.

Oh no!

Piling onto a season of "What-next", the Bulls Tuesday learned LaVine was placed in the NBA's Health and Safety Protocols and could miss Wednesday's potential elimination game. Bulls coach Billy Donovan before the team left early Tuesday afternoon told reporters LaVine was having more tests.

"The medical guys told me that he was in health and safety protocols," Donovan confirmed. "I think they're waiting for further testing. He'll continue to test and probably know a little bit more. He will not be traveling with us today. If for some reason the testing allows him to travel to Milwaukee, he will."

There's more?

Of course.

Donovan said Caruso was at his home dealing with the concussion he suffered in Sunday's Game 4 loss. He also was not traveling with the team Tuesday.

Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso during Game 4 between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Both Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso did not travel with the team to Chicago on Tuesday but neither were ruled out for Game 5.

"Still in concussion protocols," Donovan added. "He'll have testing throughout the day. Obviously was not here today to do anything. At home resting. We'll probably find out more of what his symptoms look like later today. But certainly this morning was still experiencing some symptoms. What the symptoms were, I'm really not sure. He's home resting and they'll reevaluate him later today. Right now he's not (out of Game 5). He will not travel (Tuesday)."

And so the Bulls prepare to play the defending NBA champions in their home arena after they defeated the Bulls in Chicago during the weekend by margins of 30 and 24 points.

Got ‘em just where we want them, relaxed and overconfident?

"It sucks," agreed DeMar DeRozan. "Before anything, just health wise, it just sucks, being in that situation feeling that way. First and foremost for him, and us not having him, him missing a full opportunity of playing in a playoff series; it's frustrating."

Did he mention it sucks?

"It sucks," DeRozan continued. "I can't even imagine how he feels. The most important part of it now is him come out of it healthy. I talked to him a little this morning. Just to make sure he was OK more than anything. He was more frustrated than anything. Your frustration outweighs anything else regardless how he felt. I was just try to be there to keep him positive mentally more than anything."

DeRozan was asked about playing without LaVine, who is averaging 19.3 points, a fraction behind Nikola Vucevic for second on the team in scoring, and leading the team in assists and shooting.

"Hah!" DeRozan exclaimed in a you're-kidding-me sort of message. "Playing without him was extremely tough. Zach is hard to replace, what he brings, who he is, the attention that he brings. It's a different dynamic of a game when Zach isn't out there. To not have him and play those games (earlier this season) without him was definitely tough. We're just gonna have to figure it out for tomorrow night, next man up, and find energy to go out there and fight for him as well. It's an elimination game; just got to go out and leave it all out there."

DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

DeMar DeRozan are averaging 23.3 and 19.3 points, respectively in the postseason so far.

The consensus now, of course, is it's going to be an ugly mess out there.

If neither LaVine nor Caruso can play, that probably means a starting backcourt of Ayo Dosunmu, who has started regularly once Lonzo Ball was injured, and perhaps Coby White. Maybe DeRozan and then a front line with Derrick Jones Jr. or Javonte Green.

Anyone seen Tyler Cook? Stanley Johnson's not busy anymore with the Lakers missing the play-in. And where the heck is Alize Johnson, anyway?

Khris Middleton remains out for the Bucks.

No offense to him, but it doesn't seem as significant.

The NBA doesn't test players regularly any longer. But Donovan indicated LaVine apparently wasn't feeling well and contacted the medical staff as a precaution to not infect others.

"More testing would basically give us a much much clearer understanding of whether or not he's available or unavailable," said Donovan. "As of right now, all the testing has not been complete. But there's been enough testing they've done that they've put him in health and safety protocols. He may have called the trainer and told the trainer he's not feeling well. I know that right now in talking to our medical guys that he was not feeling great. I don't know if Zach requested a test. I don't know if the medical guys requested a test. With that being said, everybody's got a responsibility here that when somebody is not feeling great to let medical know.

"It's a huge blow," Donovan agreed. "But I think the one thing we've got to do is step up and make some shots, take the right shots. The last game we generated 18 or 19 corner threes. We didn't shoot it great from the corner. I feel good about the shots that we're getting. With the way they're using their length and their size at the basket, it's going to force you to take some of those shots and have to make some of those shots. We've got to come down and generate good looks. I think at times we really did a good job of that, and there were some times where decision making and maybe getting a little too deep into the paint took a possession away from us where we need to be able to spray the ball out and find the open man a little bit better. I do think the shots that we're getting are pretty good looks."

It's truly unfortunate, especially for LaVine, who was so anxious for his first playoffs series of his career and going off a brilliant effort hidden in the despair of the final result Sunday with 24 points and 13 assists. You really feel badly for him the way he endured the recent years of Bulls rebuilding with class and dignity, always dismissing individual accolades in the enteral hope of team success.

Zach LaVine goes for a layup over Milwaukee.

Zach LaVine's status for Game 5 is currently up in the air after entering the NBA's Health and Safety protocols on Tuesday.

He's a free agent after the season and thus without a return to Chicago later in the week, Sunday could have been LaVine's last stand with the Bulls. Though that seems unlikely as the new management has consistently stated a desire to not only retain LaVine but to continue to build around him.

But if the Bulls season ends Wednesday in Milwaukee, there likely will be changes. None of which will be clear for months since talks with free agents cannot begin until July after the draft. The Bulls have their selection in this draft at No. 18.

I'm not dismissing the Bulls yet Wednesday, and it's early for mock drafts since I still have to learn the names of everyone but the projected top three guys. But NBADraft.net projects for the Bulls 6-8 Baylor forward Kendall Brown. CBS Sports has Auburn 7-1 center Walker Kessler. The Ringer suggests 6-7 Ohio State forward E.J. Liddell.

That's two months away. Right, Wednesday. David and Goliath. One in a million? As the commentary went from the movie, you're saying there's a chance? There aren't many now who will say the Bulls do. Heck, the ESPN panel of about two dozen unanimously had the Bucks before any games were play.

Then did they see Game 2!

Never say never?

"We never really cared for the outside noise," said Vucevic. "You can't focus on that. There's so much of it nowadays, social media, whatever it is, people trying to find stuff. You have to focus on yourself, your team and what we can do to go out there and extend this series. We had a good day today, did some work on the court, and we're gonna go out there tomorrow, compete and fight and hopefully we can get a win and bring the series back to Chicago. People are gonna write what they want to write, people are gonna say what they want to say. We've gotta focus on ourselves.

"Obviously," Vucevic added, "more and more's gonna fall on DeMar and me as far as being more aggressive, whether that's taking more shots or creating more opportunities for others, making decisions. It will be a little bit of an adjustment, but we did go through it already throughout the season. So we have an idea of what we can do, what can work. Hopefully, that can help us a little bit as well."

The Bulls were 9-6 this season in the games LaVine didn't play. They were 22-19 when Caruso was out. When both were out, they were 5-3. Of course, they were 0-4 in the regular season against the Bucks no matter who played. But at least 1-3 now.


"A lot of teams have gone through a lot of different ups and downs and injuries and COVID stuff. So you just have to deal with it," said Vucevic. "At no point did we feel sorry for ourselves. You have to take it and move on. It's unfortunate, but mainly for those guys that want to be out there with us and compete and they can't. It's an opportunity for somebody else to do it. Look at Brooklyn last year. Kyrie (Irving) and (James) Harden don't get hurt, maybe it goes a different way. Now you see Phoenix has lost (Devin) Booker, Dallas didn't have Luka (Doncic). They don't have Middleton. It's always something. It's very rare you have a team that's 100 precent healthy all the time."

But like this? And now? Though as a Rosanne Rosannadanna often observed, "It just goes to show you. It's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another."

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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