There hasn’t been a lot for this Bulls team to be excited about lately.
That changed somewhat on Friday, just before eventually losing to a Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Milwaukee team 108-98 at the United Center.
A masked man was spotted near the bench area for the home team, giving socially-distanced fist bumps to personnel in the area.
Who said Zach LaVine didn’t know how to make an entrance?
Sure, the struggling Bulls (26-37) would have much rather have had LaVine in uniform against the short-handed Bucks, but the fact that he was out of quarantine was huge news for an organization needing some sort of positivity, especially with Washington now holding a three-game lead for the final play-in spot in the Eastern Conference.
The All-Star guard had been away from the team since an April 14 loss to Orlando, when it was announced a day later that LaVine was put into the NBA’s health and safety protocol.
The Sun-Times reported that LaVine had tested positive for the coronavirus, despite the team unable to divulge that information until given permission by the player.
And while coach Billy Donovan said on Wednesday that it could be another week for LaVine before he can return, he wasn’t necessarily wrong.
Just because LaVine was able to rejoin the team, it doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods yet. Part of the return policy after consecutive negative tests for the virus includes passing consecutive cardio testing. If all that goes well, they’ll try and get LaVine some on-the-court work, and then hopefully have him game ready.
LaVine’s teammates have stayed in contact with him throughout the process, and the few that have also been in the protocol already knew exactly what LaVine was going through.
“I talked to him and I know how difficult it is,’’ guard Tomas Satoransky, who was in the protocol twice this season, said. “You want to be out [on the court], especially Zach. He’s a high energy guy who gets bored very easily. I definitely know that he wants to be out here working out and getting better and helping the team.
“I think he didn’t have really nothing in terms of symptoms from what I’ve heard from him. I hope the transition from being in isolation and going back to practice is going to be smooth for him because that’s what cost me the most. But I had a little more, let’s say serious symptoms in terms of being fatigued, loss of smell and taste. I don’t think he had any of that. So hopefully, it’s going to be as quick as we hope for.’’
Because it’s obvious how much they need him.
The latest evidence of that came in the first quarter against Milwaukee (39-24), as the Bulls offense again lacked any serious punch, scoring just 16 points in that first stanza.
Going back to the loss in New York, it was now three of the last five quarters in which the Bulls scored less than 20 points.
That should change significantly if, and when, LaVine can return, after he’s missed the last nine games while the Bulls have been creeping toward being locked out of even making a play-in game.
Then again, when a Nikola Vucevic has a shooting night in which he goes 7-for-27, including 1-for-9 from three-point range, it’s usually not going to end well.
Then factor in that Lauri Markkanen – along with Cristiano Felicio – was a late scratch due to an illness (non-coronavirus related), and the Bulls were really up against it even with LaVine courtside.
“That’s going to be definitely the boost,’’ Satoransky said of a LaVine return. “Hopefully he will be here as soon as possible and we’re going to definitely use him. You could see the games where sometimes we rely on Zach, especially when things get tough. He’s the guy who can get you the basket when no one really has it going. He’s an All-Star.’’