Zach LaVine scores 45 points, but Bulls fall to Clippers

LaVine had back-to-back games in Los Angeles in which he could have played the hero, but he came up short. There are no moral victories for coach Billy Donovan, who sees a team that’s still beating itself.

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Bulls guard Zach LaVine dribbles around Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. Sunday in Los Angeles.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine dribbles around Clippers forward Marcus Morris Sr. Sunday in Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Los Angeles wasn’t kind to the Bulls.

And only a portion of that had to do with what took place on the court.

In their two games in the city, the Bulls lost a tough one Friday to the Lakers, then let the Clippers escape with a 130-127 victory Sunday. But that was only part of the mental beating the Bulls took during the weekend.

The NBA’s coronavirus protocols are strict enough. But combined with the restrictions in place in California, the Bulls endured some long days.

‘‘This has been probably one of the more difficult cities that we’ve been in so far — L.A.,’’ Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. ‘‘The recommendations by everybody has been stay inside, stay in your room. That’s been a lot for these guys to deal with and handle, but you could definitely feel the tightness here more so than maybe some of the other places we’ve been to at this point.’’

Ah, yes, ‘‘tightness.’’ The Bulls (4-7) know what that’s like.

Zach LaVine had a chance to be the hero against the Lakers before missing a potential winning shot in the last five seconds, then scored 45 points to help the Bulls trade blows with the Clippers.

Until crunch time, that is. Then what separates winning teams from teams still learning how to win was on full display.

The Bulls led by a point with 3:03 left before allowing a four-point play to Nicolas Batum. Coby White then committed a turnover that led to a basket by Lou Williams with 1:30 to play. Just like that, they trailed by five.

Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 35 points, then made a layup to give the Clippers a seven-point lead before LaVine answered with a three-point play and his 10th three-pointer of the game to pull the Bulls to one with 15.2 seconds left.

The Clippers’ Paul George then made two free throws to set the stage for LaVine again, but his three-pointer with 7.5 seconds left was an air ball. It was another valiant effort wasted.

As hot as LaVine was, however, he wasn’t about to apologize for taking the shot, even though it was tough.

‘‘I’ve got 10 threes, you know,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I’m going to come down and try and make a play. I got a clean look, I just didn’t get enough legs into it.

‘‘If I would have hit the front rim and missed or if I would have [bleeping] air-balled it, it’s the same difference. Trying to help us win, man. That’s what I try and do.

‘‘Obviously, I don’t try and miss that shot. I hit the one before, [so] I’m going to come down and try and hit that one, too.’’

Donovan has empowered LaVine to be the go-to guy in clutch situations, but he also wants him to play winning basketball.

‘‘I said when I first got hired that it can’t all be on [LaVine’s] shoulders to kind of carry us home,’’ Donovan said of the air ball. ‘‘I think we needed to help him a little bit more on that last play, the shot that he took when we were down by three. That was not a good possession, [but] I was out of timeouts.

‘‘In a lot of ways, we’ve beat ourselves. And we have to get better at not doing that and understanding the stuff that’s going to get us beat.’’

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