Bulls — especially Zach LaVine — thankful, even with coach Billy Donovan in protocols

Donovan became the fourth NBA coach — and first member of the Bulls’ coaching staff — to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols Friday, but even with that news, there’s a bigger picture taking shape.

SHARE Bulls — especially Zach LaVine — thankful, even with coach Billy Donovan in protocols

Things were going almost too well in the last few days.

Everyone on the Bulls’ roster was out of the NBA’s health-and-safety protocols and getting some practice in.

But after practice Friday, the team announced head coach Billy Donovan had entered the protocols, leaving assistant Chris Fleming as the acting head coach.

Donovan was the fourth NBA head coach to enter the protocols and the first member of the Bulls’ coaching staff to do so. Not that it came as a big surprise, considering how much interaction Donovan has with his players.

Still, the news didn’t detract from the Bulls’ big picture.

Guard Zach LaVine has yet to play in a Christmas Day game with the team. That should change next season, provided the Bulls don’t melt down in their remaining 53 regular-season games.

Considering the Bulls are the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference right now, they likely will be deemed ‘‘Christmas Day watchable’’ at this time next season for the first time since 2017.

That’s something LaVine should be very thankful for.

Then again, he has a lot to be thankful for these days, starting with the addition of forward DeMar DeRozan to the roster this past offseason.

What’s nice about LaVine is that he hasn’t merely tailored his game to fit DeRozan’s, but he has embraced him with open arms.

The last game the two played together was the Bulls’ 111-107 victory against the Nets on Dec. 4 in New York. It was after that victory that DeRozan went into the NBA protocols, forcing LaVine to carry the team on his own.

LaVine did just that in a victory two nights later against the Nuggets at the United Center, scoring 32 points on 13-for-23 shooting, but then the Bulls lost both games on a road trip to Cleveland and Miami with DeRozan in isolation.

Then, just as DeRozan was ready to return, it was LaVine’s turn to enter the protocols. DeRozan carrying the team worked out a bit better, as he scored 38 points — 19 in the fourth quarter — to help the Bulls defeat the Lakers, then 26 to help them blow out the Rockets the next night.

Granted, DeRozan’s heroics came against lesser competition than what LaVine had to deal with on his own, but it was impressive anyway. And DeRozan texted LaVine and told him to get his ‘‘ass back’’ as soon as possible.

Well, it’s back.

‘‘He said he doesn’t want to do that all the time,’’ LaVine said of the dialogue the two had while LaVine was in quarantine. ‘‘I felt the same way when I called him after that Miami game. I said: ‘Look, man, I’ve gone through this before. I don’t want to do this.’ ’’

That’s why the two — along with center Nikola Vucevic — are looking forward to the game Sunday against the Pacers so much. As long as there isn’t a postponement or injury — both big ifs in the NBA landscape these days — it will be the first game the three will play together in more than three weeks.

Heck, the practices the Bulls got in Thursday and Friday were the first time the three even had practiced together during that time.

Not only was LaVine obviously glad to return, but he was particularly happy to be back working alongside a player — DeRozan — who continues to impress him.

‘‘That was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen,’’ LaVine said of DeRozan’s play after he returned from COVID. ‘‘I remember coming back off of COVID last year, and it took me a couple of games to get into it.

‘‘Dude is incredible, man. I’ve got high standards for myself, but there are certain things you’ve just gotta tip your hat to. I called him afterward and was like, ‘Man, that was incredible.’ It’s who he is.’’

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