Playtime is over for the Bulls
With the trade deadline and the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, the dog days of the NBA season are over. For DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, that means getting everybody on the same page for the stretch run.
CLEVELAND — Bulls guard Zach LaVine only has seen the NBA postseason on TV or as a fan. Forward DeMar DeRozan has reached the playoffs six times, playing 10 series and 58 games.
They would seem to have little in common when it comes to understanding what it will take — from themselves and their teammates — for the Bulls to make a deep playoff run.
There is, however, one thought they shared: Playtime is over.
‘‘I think we understand what we’re going into and what we’re trying to accomplish now,’’ LaVine said after All-Star Weekend. ‘‘Once we do get to practice, I think we’ll bring everybody together and really try to get it going with that first practice, try and build this into this next road ahead.’’
That road is filled with obstacles.
First, there’s the matter of the Bulls’ health. LaVine and his left knee came out of the All-Star Game feeling great — that was evident by his 360-degree dunk in the game — and he has been given an extra day off to recover. He is expected back at practice Wednesday.
Guard Alex Caruso (wrist surgery) might be set for a re-evaluation in the next week to 10 days, and guard Lonzo Ball (knee surgery) is expected to start ramping up his activity heading into March. Guard Ayo Dosunmu jammed his thumb in the Rising Stars event Friday, but the Bulls said he was feeling fine by Sunday.
Beyond the Bulls’ health, however, there’s the schedule. They entered the break tied for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Heat at 38-21, but they have a more difficult schedule the rest of the way. Statistically, the Bucks are the only team in the East with a tougher schedule than Bulls down the stretch.
The Bulls’ first two games after the break will be at home Thursday against the Hawks and Saturday against the Grizzlies. They then will go on the road to play the Heat and Hawks before coming home for a game against the Bucks. Then it’s off to Philadelphia and Detroit for games against the 76ers and Pistons.
After a home game against the Cavaliers, the Bulls will head west for road games against the Kings, Jazz and Suns.
‘‘I’ve been in guys’ ears, just expressing to them the importance of getting to this place and understanding the moment. Everything after the All-Star break goes like that,’’ DeRozan said, snapping his fingers. ‘‘You’re going to be able to see the separation from the good teams, the OK teams and the great teams. What position do we want to put ourselves in? That’s the next challenge for us.’’
As things stood Monday, the Bulls had the No. 2 seed in the East because of the tiebreaker with the Heat. Taking the play-in games out of the equation, that meant they would match up against the No. 7 Raptors in the first round.
But a lot can happen, and the seedings might be everything. The Nets, who have been short-handed but are starting to get healthy, have the talent to beat anyone in the first round and sit in the No. 8 spot. So while the Bulls would love to finish with the best record in the East, it doesn’t necessarily mean they would be facing the least talented team in the first round.
First things first, however. DeRozan also will get an extra day off before practicing Wednesday, especially with the workload he has been putting in.
‘‘I think we’re ready, and we’ve got to get lucky and stay healthy,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘But I think we have a chance if we come together collectively.’’