Bulls’ Billy Donovan hoping Zach LaVine gets back to downhill mindset

After having his left knee worked on and having a lubricant injected in it last month in Los Angeles, the LaVine the Bulls get from game-to-game is based on how he feels that day. Donovan hopes he feels he can attack the paint with more frequency.

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PHILADELPHIA — Billy Donovan doesn’t do ambiguity very well. Asked Monday if All-Star guard Zach LaVine’s left knee will improve or if this is just who he’ll be until the Bulls’ season ends, the coach didn’t hesitate.

“This is him,” Donovan said. “The doctors feel that the most important thing is his health and everybody feeling comfortable with him. Obviously, the group of people that were involved, they’re the best in the world, so everybody is very comfortable. The lubricant, the things that he had placed into his knee, was something to try and give him some relief from what he was experiencing.

“The biggest thing, and what people need to understand about this, too, is he is not dealing with pain. That’s not the issue. The issue is sometimes he gets some swelling, some stiffness and tightness in there, and he doesn’t feel like he has all the way his mobility, flexibility, explosiveness, that kind of stuff. Today, he feels much, much better than he did before he did this. Now, the biggest question is going to be: Can he feel this way until the end of the year?”

There’s a big difference between LaVine blowing by opponents to the rim and settling for being a spot-up shooter because he doesn’t trust the way his knee feels that particular day. His numbers attacking the paint have gone steadily down, Donovan said, and the Bulls need that to change.

“Zach is a really, really interesting guy because . . . first, at the core of who he is, he’s a really good team guy,’’ Donovan said. “So one of the things that’s happened, in my opinion, is him being out as much as he’s been out … he’s trying to figure out how does he now inject himself back into the group, where’s he kind of fitting in?

“He’s got to get downhill, and we’ve got to get to the free-throw line more, put more pressure on that basket. That’s really important for us. We just need him to be who he is.”

Or at least who he is that day.

Three men out

Guards Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball and forward Patrick Williams were with their teammates in Philadelphia on Monday but won’t finish out the trip, Donovan said.

Because Tuesday is a practice day in Detroit, followed by a game with the Pistons on Wednesday and then a possible day off, the Bulls’ medical staff felt it would be better to get the three home to continue their individual rehabs over the next three days.

Caruso and Williams are recovering from wrist surgeries, and the hope is they’ll be getting scanned soon to determine when they can start taking contact in practice. Ball, who’s on the mend after knee surgery, continued his running rehab as he also tries to figure out a return timetable.

“We’re trying to balance them being with the team, interacting with those guys, and keeping that personal connection, but also giving them the opportunity that they can ramp up and get back by doing the things they have to do, and probably the best place for them to do that is in Chicago,” Donovan said.

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