The next step in Zach LaVine’s legacy with the Bulls? Beat Jimmy Butler and the Heat

LaVine is coming off his first real signature moment with the Bulls, scoring 30 points in the second half of their play-in game against the Raptors. But if he wants to stay on that path, it means beating Butler and the Heat on Friday in Miami.

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Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine will have an opportunity to continue riding momentum on Friday, and all he has to do is beat former Bull Jimmy Butler.

Lynne Sladky/AP

TORONTO — Building a legacy in the NBA isn’t about just one moment or one game. It’s brick stacked on brick.

And even when it feels built, the rent for next month is already past due.

That’s the major difference between Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine, two players intertwined in Bulls lore since they were traded for each other in June 2017.

Butler has more forgotten legacy moments than LaVine has put together in his entire career.

There are Butler’s six 40-points-or-more playoff games since 2020, including a masterpiece against LeBron James and the Lakers in Game 3 of the 2020 NBA Finals in which he scored 40 points, handed out 13 assists and grabbed 11 rebounds.

There are Butler’s six All-Star appearances, four All-NBA third-team honors and five All-Defensive second-team honors.

LaVine, meanwhile, finally had his first real signature moment in a Bulls uniform, leading a come-from-behind surge Wednesday in a first-round play-in game against the Raptors with a 30-point second half.

Yet here the two are Friday, colliding in a win-or-go-home showdown in Miami. Butler still is looking to add a championship ring to his legacy — the only missing piece at this point — and LaVine is trying to make the case he belongs in the conversation of elite players in the Eastern Conference.

What better step to take in establishing that than by beating Butler and the Heat to end their season in their own backyard?

‘‘We match up well against them,’’ LaVine said when he was asked about the Bulls’ 3-0 regular-season record against the Heat. ‘‘This is once again a one-and-done situation, so we have to go in with the same mindset. But it’s going to be whoever wants it more. I think it comes down to that.’’

LaVine better hope it comes down to more than that because Butler’s individual desire to beat the opposition seldom is matched.

‘‘When I’m watching him on tape, the first thing that stands out is [that he’s an] unbelievable competitor,’’ Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of Butler. ‘‘Physically competes.

‘‘And maybe what doesn’t get talked about enough with him is he’s really smart. He plays the game in a way where he looks like he derives a lot more pleasure getting his teammates involved, almost using himself as a decoy.

‘‘Then in big moments he’s not afraid of taking the big shot. You can just tell the only thing that’s on his mind is, ‘What do I have to do — what do we have to do — to win tonight?’ I’ve got great respect for guys that compete like that.’’

Especially because Donovan really doesn’t have a player like that on his roster.

As effortless as LaVine is as a scorer, his all-around game pales in comparison to Butler’s. And the makeup of the two? LaVine is a boy scout; Butler is an assassin.

That doesn’t mean the boy scout shouldn’t be appreciated, however, especially if he can get the Bulls to a second consecutive playoff appearance.

‘‘There’s not too many people in this league that have the talent he has,’’ Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan said of LaVine. ‘‘You feel good just to see him get appreciated.’’

But let’s keep LaVine’s game against the Raptors in perspective. For a guy with one playoff victory in nine seasons, excuses surround LaVine like protective feathers. If the Raptors hadn’t missed 18 free throws Wednesday, we would be having a much different conversation.

If LaVine wants to build on the momentum he’s riding, he and the Bulls must beat Butler and the Heat, then — win or lose — push the top-seeded Bucks to the brink in the first round. That would be a huge step in LaVine’s growth as a max-contract player.

The ball is in LaVine’s court.

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