Bulls star Zach LaVine got benched for the final three minutes of Friday’s game and he hated it.
The Chicago Bulls faced their friends Orlando Magic on Friday with the Eastern Conference foes entering the meeting at very different steps in the developmental cycle.
The Bulls are playing all-in basketball this season after putting together the triumvirate of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and former Magic center Nikola Vucevic. Orlando has the most recent No. 1 pick, Paolo Banchero, in its roster, along with four more top-6 picks drafted over the past six years starting with Jonathan Isaac in 2017.
The game ended in a one-point victory (108-107) for the rebuilding Magic, and the matchup reached its climax on Jalen Suggs’ game-winning, step-back three-point shot with just 4.1 seconds on the clock. The Bulls inbounded the ball, DeRozan hoisted (and missed) a midcourt heave, and Zach LaVine watched all of it unfold while sitting on the pine.
That is, of course, because Bulls coach Billy Donovan decided to send LaVine to the bench with 3 minutes and 43 seconds still left to play.
“Do I like the decision? No. Do I have to live with it? Yeah. Be ready to put my shoes on and play the next game.”
Be ready, indeed.
The Bulls shooting guard had a night to forget on Friday shooting 1-for-14 from the floor (1-for-11 in the first half alone). Even then, LaVine thinks that “you play a guy like me down the stretch,” as he put it yesterday after his atrocious show, after conceding that “I got to do a better job at the beginning of the game to make my shots.” What a relief!
Truth be told, this was a very weird game to witness coming from one of the premier guards doing it in the Association. Zach LaVine has spent almost a decade in the NBA, debuting in the 2014-15 season. He’s appeared in 490 through Friday’s matchup. He’s attempted 7,551 shots hitting 3,470 of them (.460 FG%).
To close a game 1-for-14, simply put, was an aberration and a big in LaVine’s extensive resume.
“I’ve missed a lot of shots,” said LaVine addressing the press after the game. “But I’ve had a lot of games where I played terrible and in four to five minutes, I can get 15, 16 points. I just wasn’t able to shoot the next shot.”
That’s right, but right is also the fact that Chicago was down four points when LaVine left the court boasting a fancy minus-19 over his 25:13 minutes spent doing cardio on the court. Doing cardio because all ZLV did was grab five boards, dish out a couple of dimes, and turn the ball over once.
Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan was on his way to cooking himself a 41-burger that, as gaudy as it looked, turned out to be a delicacy of empty-calorie cuisine. Ayo Dosunmu, LaVine’s replacement at the time of leaving the floor, finished the game scoring 13 points and shooting a more than palatable 6-of-8 from the floor.
Friday’s game was LaVine’s first since January with four or fewer points, although he only played four minutes in that nightmarish outing. Prior to that, in a fully played match? You have to go all the way back to March 2018 to find LaVine hitting just four pops against the Celtics in 27 minutes played. LaVine went 1-for-11.
Something had (and has) to change if the Bulls and Zach LaVine want to contend
Coach Donovan always had a clear vision in mind given the development of the game and the ever-deteriorating shooting of LaVine.
“He had a tough night shooting and I thought that group (Ed: the one featuring Ayo and Alex Caruso after the former replaced LaVine) really fought their way back into the game,” Donovan said after the game.
“[LaVine] just didn’t have a great game. Great players, it happens. He cares deeply about the team. He just wasn’t playing well.”
We’ll see how “deeply” LaVine cares about the team and the vibes inhabiting the Bulls locker room, though. Asked whether or not he would talk to Donovan about the benching, LaVine took a second to reply and said “I don’t know” and that he would “figure it out after this.”
The Bulls are sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference standings with 16 games played boasting a 6-10 record. That figure has Chicago just one game above Orlando (5-11) and one game below Miami and Brooklyn (both 7-9).
It’s now been four losses in a row for the Bulls, who have not met victory since defeating the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 7. Chicago hosts Boston next on Nov. 21, two full weeks after their last win, with the Celtics leading the race out East having an extraordinary 13-3 overall record and enjoying a nine-game winning streak.
If Chicago needs a thing to come out of that upcoming matchup with a win, that’d be a much more productive LaVine.