Bulls’ loss to Knicks shows Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine still having trouble meshing
Former Bull Bobby Portis came back to haunt his old team for 28 points in the Knicks’ win, but one question remains: Where are all the Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine moments?
NEW YORK — There was that March 1 game in Atlanta.
Lauri Markkanen scored 31 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, and Zach LaVine had 47 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in the four-overtime marathon.
Before that, there was a Feb. 23 victory against the Celtics in which the duo again looked unstoppable. Markkanen had 35 points and 15 boards, and LaVine scored 42.
Both came last season, and both seemed like a long time ago, especially in the wake of the Bulls’ Monday night meltdown at Madison Square Garden.
That’s the nettlesome point that was evident again during the 105-98 loss to the previously winless Knicks: If LaVine and Markkanen are supposed to be the pillars this rebuild rests on, why are there so few games in which they both play at a high level?
Injuries have kept them in and out of the lineup since they came together after the Jimmy Butler 2017 draft night trade, but even when they’ve been on the court together, their games haven’t seemed to mesh.
Against New York, LaVine and Markkanen combined for 39 points but on 13-for-31 shooting.
LaVine’s response was simple.
“No, not [concerned] at all,’’ LaVine said. “You see all around the league so far, there’s up-and-down scores. We’ve got a new offense. Obviously, this isn’t preseason, and we want to come out here and play every game like we can go out here and get 50, each of us.
‘‘We’ve played together; we’ve had some big games together. We’re just trying to get everything clicking.’’
Bobby Portis had no problem clicking, which made this loss even more painful.
While the Bulls (1-3) were still searching, the player the organization didn’t want to eventually pay — they traded Portis to the Wizards in the Otto Porter Jr. deal — came back to haunt them as a Knick.
Portis scored 11 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and also had 11 rebounds as the Knicks outrebounded the Bulls 63-38 and were tougher in the last four minutes.
“[Portis] was juiced about this game as soon as he came to New York,’’ Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. said. “He put it out on social media, looking forward to playing the Chicago Bulls. So we all knew that he was very excited, very juiced for this game. He played a great game, but we kind of played into their hands.
“We gave them the game down the stretch, and if we’re talking about being a playoff team, we can’t have moments like this, when we got a team down by a lot of points and let them work themselves back into the game.’’
So how does coach Jim Boylen address that?
It starts with defense and toughness. Boylen’s feeling is if the Bulls can improve in those two areas, the offense with LaVine and Markkanen will come, and most of the other early-season issues will resolve themselves.
“I do embrace the physical parts of the game, and all I can say is it’s where we need to grow as a group of men,’’ Boylen said. “That’s where we’ve gotta grow. And we’ve got to embrace the moments where your physicality wins the game, maybe not your skill level or your talent level.
‘‘That’s what I have to coach, and that’s what we’ve got to do better.’’