Bulls begin life without Zach LaVine with loss to Grizzlies

The All-Star guard isn’t expected back anytime soon because of a positive test for the coronavirus. Though the Bulls’ first half was solid, LaVine’s absence was felt in the second half.

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The ball movement had a bit more life to it. The supporting cast looked more involved.

There were some positives for the Bulls without guard Zach LaVine on Friday night.

But not nearly enough.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, this is their new normal for the time being: a downward spiral that continued with a 126-115 loss to the Grizzlies at the United Center.

With just 17 games left — at least a handful of which will be played without LaVine, who’s being kept away from the team under league coronavirus protocols — the Bulls (22-33) are in a bad position that’s only getting worse.

“We’re going to miss him a lot,” center Nikola Vucevic said of LaVine. “We can sit here and complain about it, but it’s not going to change anything.”

The Bulls felt that a scheduled practice at the Advocate Center on Thursday, followed by a rematch with the Grizzlies (28-26), would be the perfect remedy after losing four straight games. Then the public relations team notified the media that the practice had been canceled because of the health and safety protocol. LaVine tested positive for the coronavirus and immediately went into quarantine.

Considering the amount of time other Bulls have taken to get over the virus, pass all the required testing, get back into shape and get back on the court, there’s a good chance LaVine could miss up to eight more games.

Coach Billy Donovan is not allowed to share specifics of LaVine’s condition unless LaVine gives the OK to make it public. 

But “I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a few days,” Donovan said. “That’s definitely not the case.”

On Friday, Donovan and the Bulls had to try to find a way to replace the 27 points per game LaVine brings. It wasn’t going to happen, especially against a top defensive team like the Grizzlies. Not that Donovan didn’t try, again reshuffling his starting five. Veteran Garrett Temple started in LaVine’s place, while Coby White was given the nod in place of an ailing Tomas Satoransky (non-COVID-19). Donovan also a move made in the frontcourt, with Daniel Theis starting in front of Thad Young.

“We obviously are missing a really good player,” Donovan said. “We’ve been fortunate that Zach, outside of his ankle, has been predominately healthy for most of the year. So that part of it has been great to have him available. But now he’s not.”

For the first two quarters, there was some success. White scored 11 points in the first quarter to keep the Bulls even, and center Nikola Vucevic — who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds — was solid inside to keep the game tied at halftime.

But that only lasted so long, and the Bulls were exposed in the third quarter when he Grizzlies outscored them 37-28.

The Bulls are now 3-9 since their trade-deadline deals and have lost five straight. They’re also no longer holding down the last play-in spot, with the Raptors now 10th in the Eastern Conference.

“The one thing you don’t want to look back on is having a lot of regret, and certainly there were plenty of opportunities for us over whatever it is, 53, 54 games, that we’re not getting back,” Donovan said. “We’re really no longer in control of our destiny, and for a good portion of the season we had been.”

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