Zach LaVine gets more minutes, but he struggles in Bulls’ 108-103 loss to Lakers

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Bulls center Robin Lopez battles his brother, Lakers center Brook Lopez, in the Lakers’ 108-103 victory at the United Center. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Bulls increased guard Zach LaVine’s minutes limit to 28 on Friday night and looked like they were going to get an immediate payoff when coach Fred Hoiberg was able to insert LaVine into the closer’s role in a tight game with the Lakers — down by one with 2:59 to go.

But it didn’t quite work out. LaVine missed two free throws and two shots and committed three fouls as the Bulls faltered down the stretch in a 108-103 loss to the Lakers before an energized sell-out crowd of 21,827 at the United Center.

It just wasn’t LaVine’s night. He finished with 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting, including 2-for-8 on three-point shots, in 26 minutes.

“I felt good. I just missed a lot of easy shots,” said LaVine, who was playing his seventh game since returning from knee surgery. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. I’ve got to be better, though. Tonight I sucked. But I can handle a lot of that. I’ve got to be better.”

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LaVine struggled to get into a rhythm all night. He was 1-for-6 in the first half. The extension of the minutes limit from 24 to 28 allowed Hoiberg to put him in the game in the final 1:18 of the third quarter, when the Bulls were behind by seven after rallying to tie earlier in the quarter. But LaVine missed a drive, committed a turnover and then a foul, then missed another drive at the buzzer as the Bulls trailed 84-72 after three.

The minutes limitation has prevented LaVine from finding a rhythm, but he refused to use that as an excuse in this one.

“I think it was just a bad game, man,” he said. “I missed a lot of easy shots — a lot of easy plays that I normally make.”

With guard Kris Dunn out with a concussion and LaVine and forward Lauri Markannen (11 points on 3-for-10 shooting, 11 rebounds) less productive than usual, the Bulls’ bench ignited a rally that nearly led to a victory. Denzel Valentine (16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), Bobby Portis (16 points, nine rebounds), Nikola Mirotic (18 points, 4-for-9 on three-pointers) and guard David Nwaba (eight points) helped rally the Bulls from an 89-76 deficit with 10:38 left to a 95-92 lead on three-pointer by Mirotic that sent the UC crowd into a frenzy with 4:11 left.

“Our second unit did a really, really good job tonight of getting us back into the game,” Hoiberg said. “Got us back in the fourth [after] we fell behind double digits.”

But the Lakers’ Julius Randle (14 points) converted a three-point play, and Brandon Ingram (25 points, nine rebounds) hit a long jumper and two free throws to key a 13-2 run that made it 105-97 Lakers with 21 seconds left.

“We didn’t make shots early, and that affected us at the other end,” said Hoiberg, whose team fell behind 32-17 in the first quarter. “There are going to be nights when the thing doesn’t go in the hoop.

“We didn’t finish at the rim. I thought Zach got to the rim on several occasions, and he’s an elite finisher in there in his brief career to this point. As he gets his legs under him, he will finish those. I’m confident with that.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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