Bulls guard Zach LaVine shouldn’t have been talking about a loss Friday night.
Not after he had just put on a 50-point scoring clinic for the first time in his career.
But it wasn’t exactly rare air.
LaVine became the 10th NBA player this season to reach 50 points, but the record of those players’ teams is just 6-4.
Stephen Curry and Bradley Beal broke 60 points, and while Curry’s Warriors pulled out the victory, Beal’s Wizards lost to the 76ers.
There were two similar components in the Bulls’ and Wizards’ losses: horrible defensive efforts and a surrounding cast that couldn’t step up when the opposing defense locked down the main scoring threat.
Beal had 57 points through three quarters before the Sixers turned up the heat on him in the final quarter and held him to just three points. Wizards teammate Russell Westbrook finished with 20, but the other three starters — Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija — combined for just 20.
LaVine had 44 going into the fourth quarter, but the Hawks didn’t wait until the last 12 minutes to get aggressive. They started blitzing LaVine late in the first half, during which he had 39, and never stopped.
“What I saw was toward the end of the second quarter and into the third, they would have a guy guard me full court,’’ LaVine said. “They were doing it normally, but then they would just jump me at half-court with Solomon Hill or [Danilo] Gallinari or [Bogdan] Bogdanovic. If one of those guys was guarding me, they’d just bring them off, just pretty much get the ball out of my hand at half-court. I was fine with that. We just had to make some more plays.’’
There was the major issue.
More plays weren’t made. Nikola Vucevic — much like Westbrook did for Beal — helped lighten the load, scoring 25, but the other three starters — Thad Young, Patrick Williams and Tomas Satoransky — combined for eight. That included Satoransky taking the zero on an 0-for-6 shooting night.
“I thought when they started trapping [LaVine], we just didn’t make enough plays,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “We had plenty of plays to make. [The Hawks] were leaving the floor wide-open.’’
The Bulls hope that, with 21 games left and a playoff spot hanging in the balance, they learned some lessons. But how many lessons need to be learned before they start resonating?
“Hopefully, we can take care of that,’’ Vucevic said of making improvements. “We’re working on it and talking and watching film. There’s a lot we can fix right away. We just have to put the effort in to do it.’’
LaVine said a victory would have meant more than scoring 50, but he was able to step back and appreciate the night.
“I had every number at 40 up to this point, so it’s been eluding me,’’ LaVine said. “I give credit to [the Hawks], man. Guys get going like that, they made a business call — ‘OK, we’re not going to let this guy beat us.’
“I would’ve much rather had a 50-point game in a win than a loss. That’s the salty part about it.’’
Then LaVine was reminded that he only needed 37 more 50-point games to tie Michael Jordan.
“That dude’s a ghost,’’ LaVine said. “He’s a myth.’’