Zach LaVine’s first back-to-back of season is a success
He finished with 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting but added six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes in the Bulls’ victory against the Hornets.
On Wednesday night, Zach LaVine experienced a first.
He played in his first back-to-back of the season. The move signals LaVine’s knee-management schedule is trending in the right direction, but it’s far from a closed case.
In the first quarter, Goran Dragic lobbed the ball up for LaVine at the rim. Instead of rising for a dunk like he has done countless times, he settled for a layup.
The play underlined how LaVine is still working back to his standard of explosiveness after having offseason surgery for nagging left-knee pain. Coach Billy Donovan did say he liked the level of pop and bounce in his 29-point game Tuesday against the Nets.
LaVine had less pop and bounce in the Bulls’ 106-88 victory against the Hornets.
He scored only 10 points and shot 4-for-16 from the field but added six assists, four rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes.
“I loved the way he played,” Donovan said. “He didn’t shoot the ball well, but he made quick, decisive decisions.”
Donovan was adamant that LaVine’s appearance didn’t mean he’s cleared for all back-to-backs, just that the team’s medical staff felt good about how their max player has responded to management. LaVine missed the season opener against the Heat, the next game against the Wizards and a game against the Spurs.
His absence in the opener came after three grueling practices that led to knee discomfort and the team’s announcement of the management schedule. His next two absences were the first games of back-to-backs. The Bulls have their next back-to-back Sunday and Monday against the Raptors, then don’t have another until the second week of December.
Donovan wasn’t trying to be evasive about LaVine’s situation. He reiterated that he isn’t a doctor and that LaVine’s progress is a moving target.
When determining LaVine’s availability, the Bulls have to juggle the cumulative effect of previous games with a look ahead at the schedule and also check out how he’s feeling. And in certain instances, LaVine might be feeling ready to go, but the medical staff will advise against playing.
The situation is fluid, but this game was a test of how much he can handle.
The Bulls used a balanced attack against the Hornets. Donovan’s bench outscored the Hornets 49-28. Six Bulls scored in double figures, including Patrick Williams.
The 2020 fourth overall pick opened the game with back-to-back field goals en route to 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half. He finished with a season-high 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting. The performance followed a 12-point, seven-rebound effort against the Nets.
Could Williams be turning a corner in his development? The Bulls’ road game Friday against the Celtics will be a good test of how legit this version of Williams is.
“[I liked] the consistency of building off not only Brooklyn but the last several games,” Donovan said. “It’s good to see him make some jumps and take some strides. As much as we go through film with him, he’s been the one internally that’s been trying to bring it out of himself.”