Bulls about to get All-Stars back, but is it too late after loss to 76ers?
With the Wizards winning and the Bulls dropping their fourth straight, the deficit for the final play-in spot widened to four games with only seven left. Bigger picture? There’s more at stake for the franchise when Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic return on Thursday, and that’s draft-lottery percentages.
Mathematically, there’s still a heartbeat.
It’s faint, there are lots of wires and tubes, but it’s there.
And until it’s not, Billy Donovan is going to do what he can to coach this thing to the end, not because he blindly believes his Bulls (26-39) can chase down the Wizards (30-35) for the last play-in spot as much as he still sees value in the remaining seven games.
All-Star guard Zach LaVine, who has missed 11 games in the health and safety protocol, cleared his final obstacle and rejoined the team. Fellow All-Star Nikola Vucevic, who missed the Bulls’ 106-94 loss Monday to the 76ers with hip soreness, could be back Thursday in Charlotte and possibly be joined by LaVine.
No big deal?
Considering the lack of practice time and how important the organization considers Vucevic and LaVine moving forward, it’s a very big deal.
“A lot of it’s just kinda been on the fly,’’ Donovan said of the lack of real time LaVine and Vucevic have had together. “But it would be good if we could get those guys on the floor practicing some [before Thursday]. There really hasn’t been a lot of time for both of those guys to get acclimated over a period of time with limited practice and then Zach missing significant time and now ‘Vooch’ being out. So, yeah, that would be great, to be able to have both those guys develop a chemistry with one another.’’
There’s also a fine line the Bulls are walking — maybe not the coaching staff and players but definitely the front office.
The Vucevic trade cost the Bulls a 2021 first-round pick, but it is top-four-protected. Anything outside the top four goes to the Magic.
So the franchise would love to see LaVine and Vucevic find some type of rhythm that they can carry into the offseason but not at the cost of winning games, especially if the Wizards keep winning and stay out of reach.
Going into Monday, the Bulls held the No. 7 spot with a 31.9% chance of landing in the top four of the draft. Slim, but it’s something.
If they go on a hot streak and jump into No. 8, surpassing the Raptors, the number to land in the top four shrinks to 26.3%. And they also could jump the Kings at No. 9, lowering their chances again, this time to 20.3%.
That’s why there’s hope that LaVine being reunited with Vucevic will lead to some positive moments but not victories.
Donovan, however, isn’t focused on the big picture. He’s just trying to get LaVine back in the mix and on track.
“[LaVine is] excited to be back playing,’’ Donovan said. “I think, for him, getting in the gym was good. Obviously we were out of town with that back-to-back [in Miami and a game in New York]. But he was able to get in the gym and get some work in and be monitored to see how he was doing. We just need a little bit of a ramp-up time before he can join the team.’’
And then maybe the Bulls can ramp up the scoring again.
In the first quarter against the 76ers, the Bulls needed a three-pointer by Daniel Theis in the final seconds just to reach the 20-point mark.
As usual, there was fight. The Bulls cut a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to one with 7:01 left thanks to seldom-used Javonte Green. The defensive-minded wing was disruptive, and he scored seven points. The 76ers, however, got the wake-up call and took care of business down the stretch.
“I’ve just tried to stay ready, and I know that my time will come,’’ Green said.