Guard Zach LaVine thinks Bulls will be a playoff team next season

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The book has all but been closed on guard Zach LaVine’s season.

The Bulls won’t come out and say LaVine is done for the season, even though he hasn’t played since March 18 and the soreness in his right patellar tendon is still present. But with only two games left after he missed the team’s game Saturday against the 76ers at the United Center, go ahead and call it over.

LaVine now has played five NBA seasons without making a playoff appearance. Think that’s starting to lead to some frustration?

‘‘I haven’t seen that yet,’’ LaVine said of playoff basketball. ‘‘I haven’t experienced it. I’m looking forward to it. It’s definitely something that you want to start doing, especially when you get later in your career and you start maturing as a player. So I think we’re on the right path for that. I think we’ll be there.’’

LaVine might be in the minority with a prediction like that, especially given the Bulls’ 22-58 record. But he didn’t back down from the statement, even doubling down.

‘‘Because stuff has to eventually turn,’’ LaVine said when he was asked why he thinks the Bulls will be playing into at least late April next season. ‘‘You can’t, as a player, continue to be on the lower end of the totem pole. I think it has to switch the mindset for you personally and for the team. I think next year we have to start off really early and have that be our main goal. It doesn’t matter about individual things; you have to put that first.’’

LaVine said he thinks a lot of players in the locker room will do that and indicated the Bulls being 18 games better than this season isn’t unrealistic if they stay healthy.


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‘‘There’s no reason you shouldn’t think that,’’ he said. ‘‘I think we have enough talent. There are things we have to do better, but talent-wise, on paper, I don’t see a lot of teams better than us in the East. I think we should be a playoff team.’’

LaVine is also smart enough to know he’ll have to continue improving his game if that is to happen.

Yes, Lauri Markkanen might have the highest ceiling and Otto Porter Jr. might be the perfect glue guy, but the high-flying LaVine is the flash, the highlight reel.

There’s a reason the Bulls matched the four-year, $78 million contract offer LaVine got from the Kings last offseason to keep him, even when many initially criticized them for doing so.

‘‘Now it’s looking like I’m a pretty good deal, right?’’ LaVine said with a laugh.

He has a point. LaVine averaged career highs with 23.7 points — the first time he has averaged more than 20 — 4.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 63 games.

But for the Bulls to make the playoffs, it all has to be better.

‘‘I just have to keep trying to improve my game,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘You have to look at yourself in the mirror and try to improve the faults you had. I think I had a really good year this year, but there are a lot of things I think I could have done much better, as well. So going into next season, I always try to improve. Not just little aspects but across the board.’’

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