Coach Jim Boylen used the word several times Wednesday: “Heartbreaking.”
And it had nothing to do with the Bulls’ 96-93 loss to the Nets.
After reports over the weekend that guard Zach LaVine’s sprained left ankle was going to be more week-to-week than day-to-day, the Bulls clarified before the game Wednesday that their leading scorer will be out two to four weeks.
That’s another setback for LaVine, who was traded to the Bulls last year during his recovery from a serious knee injury. And it’s another setback for the Bulls’ “core three” — LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn. Since the Bulls jump-started their rebuild, getting LaVine, Dunn and the draft rights to Markkanen in the deal that sent Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves, the three have only played 14 games together.
“First of all, it’s heartbreaking for me,” Boylen said. “And I know for [vice president of basketball operations] John [Paxson] and [general manager] Gar [Forman] and [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] and [chief operating officer] Michael [Reinsdorf], it’s heart-breaking.
“The injury thing is out of your control — it’s difficult. We’ll just get them together when they’re available, and we’ll evaluate from there.”
LaVine didn’t deem the new timetable as anything more than a bump in the road. He was hurt last week in a loss to the Magic in Mexico City. He had hoped it would be another week and then he’d be good to go.
“We’ll get it together,” LaVine said of he, Markkanen and Dunn playing together. “It’s not like I’m out for an extended period of time. I’ll be back out real soon. We still have a lot of season left. We’ll get it down. . . . I want to get the rhythm on that. Still working on that.”
When LaVine returns, he’s expecting to still play his full minutes (an average of 35.3 per game) despite his injury history.
“As competitive as we all are, you want to be on the court,” he said. “You ask for those type of things. You put the work in to not have that [workload] affect your body. You want to be safe, too, so maybe manage it here and there, but I don’t think anyone will ever say: ‘I’m playing too much.’ ”
Boylen sure won’t.
“I think playing tired is a skill,” Boylen said. “Playing tired in that moment is a skill. Mentally, that’s a skill. If you’re playing as hard as we hope you play and what we talk about, you’re going to get winded sometimes, and you’re going to get tired. You catch your breath and you keep grinding. That’s the mental part. As you know, this level is about the mental part as much as anything.”
Case in point? Against the Nets, the undermanned Bulls (7-25) again let a game slip from their fingertips late. Joe Harris hit a floater off the glass with just over 40 seconds left to put the Nets up by one. The Bulls had a chance to win it after a shot-clock violation with 8.4 seconds left. They didn’t take advantage, as Justin Holiday had a sloppy turnover off the inbound pass, allowing former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie to ice the game from the free-throw line with 1.4 seconds left.
The Holiday turnover was supposed to have been a play for Dunn, but it never materialized.
“It was unfortunate,” Dunn said of the last-second breakdown. “Just watch the film and get better.”