Zach LaVine shoots the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers

Bulls lose to Clippers

Some days I feel really good, some days I don't, so I've just got to find consistency - Zach LaVine

I'll find my way; I always do I stick to it. I don't try to blame anything on anyone else. I'm the one taking the shots, so I have to be better. - Zach LaVine

You just don't know something can be so complicated until you have to deal with it. You know, like health care, quantum physics and recovery from ACL surgery. That's right Zach, who knew?

Well, we here in Chicago had some idea about ACL surgery recovery.

"Some days I feel really good, some days I don't, so I've just got to find consistency," Bulls guard Zach LaVine was saying Tuesday night after the Bulls 112-106 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. "I'm confident. Regardless of if I'm up or down, I have the same mentality out there. I know what I can do, so I approach it the same way. But it is a long process. That's what I have to deal with; that's the scenario I was given so I have to fight through it and I will.

"They (friends and family) understand how hard it is to come back from injury. I take it lightly because I don't think it is," LaVine said. "I expect more of myself regardless of the injury."

Which is why LaVine is leading the league lately in using the word frustrated.

It was yet another frustrating game for LaVine and the Bulls, perhaps more so for the former as LaVine had another brutal shooting game, three of 13 for 10 points and second poorest plus/minus on the team thanks to shaky defense. It's the third time in the last five games the player generally regarded as the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler trade last June, the player announced last in the Bulls renowned pregame introductions has shot less than 25 percent. In that stretch, LaVine is averaging 12.8 points on 32 percent shooting and 20 percent on threes. Since the All-Star break, LaVine is shooting barely 30 percent on threes and about 35 percent overall. Three of 13 shooting was one of his better games in March.

Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against the LA Clippers

"I'll find my way; I always do," LaVine promised. "I stick to it. I don't try to blame anything on anyone else. I'm the one taking the shots, so I have to be better."

It's a positive attitude and those around the Bulls and close to LaVine are as confident as he is that he will emerge as the star player he was becoming before that serious knee injury 13 months ago.

But it's been two months since LaVine's return, and it's a lesson many have learned, often painfully, about the knee surgery. Patience, patience, patience for the patient.

But in a post All-Star stretch in which the Bulls are attempting to evaluate their roster of inexperienced players along with the fit with LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, LaVine's difficulties make it even more difficult to have success in games.

So the Bulls fell to 23-44 in losing to the Clippers, a strong first half complicated by yet another erratic performance by the starters. This time after falling behind 15-9 to open the game and then going ahead by as much as eight in the second quarter and trailing 62-60 at halftime, it was yet another weak third quarter performance from the starters that doomed the Bulls. Of course, there are new starters just about every game these days.

The Bulls fell behind 90-78 after three quarters and then couldn't overcome a massive 41-15 free throw shooting edge from the Clippers.

Sure, the officials missed an obvious foul call on an attempted LaVine dunk in the second quarter that resulted in technical fouls called on LaVine and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. But routinely poor defensive rotations had the Bulls repeatedly reaching, grabbing, fouling and wondering how many DeAndre Jordan would make. Actually, pretty good at seven of 12. Jordan also had nine dunks and two layups, which despite being worth just two points each had a much bigger impact than many of the 22 missed Bulls threes.

Bobby Portis #5 of the Chicago Bulls handles the ball against Sam Dekker #7 of the LA Clippers

"They are a tough cover rolling to the rim and monsters on the glass," said Bobby Portis, who led the Bulls off the bench with 19 points. "We're trying out new things, different lineups (Noah Vonleh getting his first start for Lauri Markkanen with back spasms), trying to get everyone to play together. The thing we've got going, everyone enjoys playing for each other. Despite getting off to the slow starts first and third quarters we are competing and giving it our best fight."

[Cam Payne] is playing really solid basketball for us right now. - Coach Fred Hoiberg

The Bulls are doing that as they sliced their deficit below 10 points several times in the fourth quarter after trailing by 14 early in the fourth. It was 102-96 Clippers with six minutes left. But then LaVine missed a pair of jumpers and Kris Dunn one, and the Clippers continued to throw lobs to Jordan. He finished with 29 points (11 of 12 shooting) and 18 rebounds. Lou Williams routinely beating Bulls off the dribble had 26 points with 13 of 14 from the free throw line.

The Bulls got the deficit back within six with 51 seconds left before LaVine missed another three.

Dunn had a fine game with 18 points, six assists and two steals, though was in foul trouble and played 26 minutes. David Nwaba had 15 points, Robin Lopez had 12 in playing only the first quarter again and LaVine and Cameron Payne each had 10. Payne was excellent with five assists, five rebounds and two steals. Portis also had nine rebounds with three of six threes.

The reserves outscored the Clippers' 43-24. The Bulls bench also had seven of the team's 11 steals, the fifth straight game with at least 10 steals and the reserves 15 of the Bulls' 26 assists. With steals and offensive rebounds, the Bulls had a staggering 25 more shots than the Clippers. Of course, the Bulls also missed 19 more shots than the Clippers.

"The bench came in and gave us a big boost and a big part of that is Cam Payne," said Hoiberg. "I think he's playing really solid basketball for us right now. He's the one that got us going with the deflections, got a couple of loose balls and got us a couple of extra possessions. He's done a great job throwing ahead and making simple plays and shooting the ball with confidence."

This is the upside down world of the Bulls now that the formerly maligned Payne has been a bright spot when starters sputter regularly.

Cameron Payne #22 of the Chicago Bulls goes up for a shot against Sam Dekker #7 of the LA Clippers

"I'm staring to feel my body getting back to the way it was when I first started," said Payne.

The Bulls recovered from that weak start with defensive plays by Dunn and Payne turning into scores in the first quarter and trailing 31-27 after one. Lopez was terrific with an assortment of hook shots and aggressive follows. But in this new alignment, he plays just the first quarter. Justin Holiday didn't play. Hoiberg said Markkanen is day to day and it was more precautionary.

It was the second quarter when the Bulls excelled, their second group with Payne, Portis, Antonio Blakeney and Denzel Valentine pressuring up court, denying inside passes and making it difficult for the Clippers to run their offense. They also were more active on offense with movement and cutting off the ball, actions we don't see as much from the starters, who tend to play more one pass and a shot.

"I think we're a jump shooting team a little bit," said Dunn. "We have a lot of fours who can shoot; the four man was wide open and the corner threes were wide open. Those were shots we want to take, good looks we want; today they didn't fall."

"We've got to find a way to get better shots," Hoiberg countered. "Too many times the possession is ending in a tough, contested jump shot."

Kris Dunn #32 of the Chicago Bulls dunks against the LA Clippers

Dunn did have some big finishes and helped the Bulls to a 58-51 lead late in the second quarter when he returned with the starters. But the Clippers got four free throws on a Williams drive after LaVine's attempted dunk was stopped by Sindarius Thornwell's arm on LaVine's arm.

"It's frustrating when you didn't get foul calls," said LaVine. "I have to get off my legs and show my explosion. Some days I do, some days I don't; it's up and down. I have to even that out. He said he missed it; they are going to miss calls. I said some choice words that got me the tech."

Still, the Bulls only trailed 62-60 after outscoring the Clippers inside and on fast breaks and with just three turnovers and 52 percent shooting. But another jump shot heavy third quarter with Vonleh missing all four of his three-point attempts left the Bulls too far behind a team desperately competing for a final playoff spot.

"It was really the start, both halves where we weren't sharp," agreed Hoiberg. "Got to come out with more grit, more fire. We were missing assignments, had random switches going on out there. I thought that second quarter was really good. We forced turnovers, got deflections that got us out on the break where we outscored them 13-11; 60 points in the paint. That's got to be a season high for us, 18-9 on second-chance points. So, I thought we did some really good things."

But the Bulls also understand they need really good things from their prime players. Back in October, LaVine was telling the Bulls he was ready to play, recovered from his February surgery. Though sometimes you realize post operative health care is more complicated and takes longer than even you expected.

"It sucks to go out and not play the way you want to, but you can't dwell on it," said LaVine, who has remained positive and personable throughout his struggles. "I'm going to get right back in the gym, keep my head up; it's a process and I'm going to stick with it. I'm excited to get to the offseason. I didn't get one last year and that's where I really build, develop my game and get better and do things I didn't do the year before. I came in more than halfway through, so obviously (I will be) getting more continuity with the coach and the players throughout the offseason.

"I've always been a pretty efficient player and I need to get back to that," said LaVine. "Getting your legs under you and getting your speed back. I think that's going to help me going into next year. All these games, each one is helping me get back to where I was. It's frustrating, but I have to take it as a learning lesson every game just to get better."

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