Zach LaVine had another big game with 30 points, leading the Bulls to a win against the Wizards, but the injury bug has come back to hurt the Bulls as forward/center Daniel Gafford is expected to miss two to four weeks with a thumb injury.
This Bulls season has been a ship battling the storms of hope and expectation on the vast NBA sea of competition. Though smooth seas never make a skillful sailor. This crew of Bulls players know such a journey can be daunting and hazardous. But you won't reach your destination without losing sight of the shore. The winds and waves of the relentless schedule can detour the ablest navigator, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton might have said. The rains of defeat have come heavily for these Bulls and almost flooded their aspirations in torrents of collapse. The violent gusts of disappointment have blown across the seas from Memphis to Milwaukee, rattling the portholes to success and darkening the lamps of renewal. And just as the shoals and rocks of despair appear ready to sink this season, when the storm strengthens and the waves heighten, it takes a steady hand at the controls to find the safe harbor of credibility.
And so Wednesday, it was once again Zach LaVine with 30 points, his fifth consecutive game of at least 25 points for the first time in a decade for a Bulls player, steering the Bulls to a 115-106 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Watch as Zach LaVine scores 30 points against the Wizards
"I've been blessed to coach a lot of All-Stars, and I think he should be in the (All-Star) game," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "He's an All-Star caliber player. He's an All-Star caliber person. He's worked very hard. It's an unbelievable story, too. Wins the dunk contest twice, tears the ACL, comes back, becoming a two-way player. He's leading, he's communicating, he's developing, he's only (24). You look at his crunch-time numbers and the big shots he makes in winning time. It's all right there for him.
"That's what all stars do," Boylen added. "They give you what they can give you every night. I love the scoring part, I like the two-way player part. I like the way he's knocking balls loose, flying around, attacking the rim. He's having a great season and he's getting better all the time."
The entertainment of LaVine's dunks, darting drives and a Bulls win, and some of the most overwrought and tortured prose so purple it can actually leave a mark.
And by the way, for the second half of the season, the Bulls now are undefeated.
C'mon, it's all about the journey, as a Zen master once said. And this time in the United Center the sound was not of just one hand clapping.
"We come out sometimes and give up those big leads, but a couple of games recently we've come out and played good in the third quarter," said LaVine. "Today it carried over into the fourth and that last stretch. They made their run and we made ours in the fourth as well.
"We hit some shots and that helped open the gap," noted LaVine, who also had seven rebounds and seven assists. "We converted our stops into makes on the other end. For me, just staying with the same routine. I expect myself to play this way. I put a lot of work into it. But it doesn't mean a lot to me unless it ends in a win like tonight. This feels good."
Inside the Locker Room with Zach LaVine
And so there were deserving smiles even if the Wizards are 13-27 and the Bulls now 15-27 with their second win in the last nine games.
The Bulls got another strong reserve effort from Thaddeus Young with 18 points, leading four reserves scoring in double figures. Tomas Satoransky baffled his former team with 18 points and five assists, the Bulls with a healthy 26 assists. Lauri Markkanen had 13 points and eight rebounds and Kris Dunn with three steals had his league most 24th game with multiple steals. The Bulls had 26 points on Washington turnovers and made 14 threes, six by LaVine.
Though there was some anguish with Daniel Gafford sustaining a dislocated right thumb early in the first quarter in his third start with Wendell Carter Jr. out four to six weeks with an ankle injury. The Bulls said Gafford would miss two to four weeks with the injury.
Gafford is a gracious young man. He waited for media after the game, which is unusual when a player is hurt. And then was playful and upbeat in accepting his fate during interviews. He said his thumb bent awkwardly deflecting a pass.
"I thought it was a slight jam and looked at my thumb and it was way more than a jam," Gafford said. "Had to do a double-take. My finger was almost hanging. I'd never seen anything like that before. It hurt, but it wasn't the type of pain you can't bear. The doctors put my finger back together like a jigsaw puzzle.
"It's really disappointing as much as I want to be out there," Gafford said. "It's taking a toll on me now to hear him say I'll be out two to four weeks. He said no fracture, a dislocation. There was a lot of doctor talk. I didn't understand most of it. I'll try my best to recover and come back strong.
"When I looked at my thumb it was almost off my hand; that was the crazy part," Gafford said, media impressed with his sang-froid. "It didn't make me sick. Some people in this situation, they'll pass out seeing stuff like that. I had to calm myself down before I called timeout. The crazy thing was before I called timeout I almost got the ball stolen from me, so I had to make sure I had it first."
There you go. Everyone's got another thumb. But it could have been a turnover.
Later in the game, the Bulls suffered another loss in the win when Chandler Hutchison, having his best game of the season with 11 points in 12 minutes, landed hard on a driving dunk for a 95-93 lead with 9:04 left in the game. Hutchison apparently aggravated the right shoulder injury that has sidelined him much of this season. He was fouled but was unable to shoot the free throw as he left the game.
Boylen said after the game there was no update on Hutchison's condition.
Shaquille Harrison came in to make the free throw, which meant Hutchison could not return.
This time the Bulls avoided the debris of defeat.
Ryan Arcidiacono and Coby White missed threes and Harrison a drive as the Wizards with a tip-in drew within 96-95 with 6:57 left.
The Wizards had led 60-55 in a casual first half with both teams shooting close to 55 percent. The Bulls then adjusted their play to start the third quarter 11-0 and take a 77-66 lead with a 22-6 run. The Wizards, however, got a streak of threes from David Bertans to get within 85-80 after three. Washington assumed a brief 93-90 lead early in the fourth quarter, and there was a bit of the "oh no, not again" vibe as Hutchison took that fall.
Boylen brought back LaVine, Satoransky, and Markkanen with the 6:57 remaining and that one-point Bulls lead. Then with a dash of defense causing a pair of turnovers and dashes to the basket for scores by Markkanen and Satoransky and two more clutch threes from LaVine in the last two minutes, the Bulls held off all Bradley Beal had with 23 points.
Tomas Satoransky with the And-1
"You have to be consistent and I think I have been and I'm in a nice little groove right now," said LaVine.
In something of a surprise so is Luke Kornet, who had 10 points with his second double-figure scoring game in the last there. The seldom-used seven-footer who was benched for most of November and December now becomes the starting center with the Carter and Gafford injuries. He can look somewhat maladroit at times, but he blocked two shots and covered and recovered nicely in 35 minutes.
Next man up. Sure, but the Bulls didn't really expect that man up to start. Cristiano Felicio will be his backup, said Boylen.
"You may see some guys that haven't been playing start playing more," said Boylen. "You may see us play small, but we won't change what we do. We'll play small out of necessity. Cris Felício is a great kid. He's a hard-playing guy, he stays ready, he works. There's no fear of throwing him in there. He helped us win a game."
Felicio played seven scoreless minutes Wednesday. Denzel Valentine was the only active player not to enter the game.
Kornet played most of the time, and he says he's ready this time.
"Give energy, get the ball moving and keeping it alive and help us get good shots; just trying to be a presence," Kornet said. "This happened (not playing early) my first few years (in the NBA); it happened in college. So you have to be ready for your opportunity. I was not playing well for the first couple of months. It hasn't really shown yet, but my shot is feeling better. I don't think I've played very well, but it's good to be able to contribute however you can and with work, I can get back to the level I know I can play at."
The Bulls seas have been angry, friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. And so as the Bulls weather the storms of injury and inequity they cannot avoid, they attempt to avoid the storms that can be weathered. Whether or not.