Bulls guard Zach LaVine still dealing with reality of bad left knee

While his offensive numbers have taken a dip from the regular season, LaVine has gone back to taking some pride on the defensive end. Maybe not to the extent where he was last summer and at the start of the regular season, but much better than the knee allowed him to do the last six weeks.

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The Bulls’ Zach LaVine shoots against the Bucks during the Game 1 of their playoff series.

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine shoots against the Bucks during the Game 1 of their playoff series.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Zach LaVine’s knee issue isn’t going away anytime soon. Sure, a week off before the Bulls’ first-round playoff series helped, as did a three-day gap between Games 1 and 2 against the Bucks. But LaVine acknowledged Friday before Game 3 that there still are mornings he wakes up to find his left knee swollen, just as he did in December.

“The extra rest definitely does help because you’re not going into back-to-backs, [and] practice is more walkthroughs and mental days, so that helps with treatment,” he said. “But there’s some days it’s swollen and it’s gonna be swollen.”

LaVine’s offensive numbers were down across the board from the regular season through the first two playoff games, but his defense seemed to be back. It wasn’t at the level it was last summer for Team USA or for the first month of the season for the Bulls, but it definitely was improved from March and April, when LaVine, trying to work through the discomfort in his knee, often seemed to focus only on offense.

“For a player like Zach, who is so athletic and fast and has really relied on that for both ends of the court . . . there’s a period of time [where] he’s had to [ask], ‘How do I actually get my speed and quickness into the game on both ends of the floor?’ ” coach Billy Donovan said. “Probably not dealing with this before in his career where he’s had to play through it, I think there’s been a figuring-out part.

“He understands you put the jersey on, you put the shoes on, you get across the line, everybody has a job to do, and I do think he’s trying to do it to the very best of his abilities and give us everything he has.”

LaVine is playing in his first playoff series in eight NBA seasons and has teammate Alex Caruso willing to jump in front of a truck on defense, bad back and all. How could he not try to match that energy?

“There’s limitations you’re gonna have, but at this point I’m just trying to throw my eggs in one basket,” LaVine said of his defense. “We’re going out here trying to win a series, and you can’t think about yourself or what you’re dealing with. You’ve pretty much got to suck it up.”

The next test for the knee comes Sunday, with a noon start for Game 4 after a day to recover from Game 3.

“Sometimes he’s had heavy loads and he’s come back and felt pretty good,” Donovan said. “And then there’s been some times where we’ve actually given him a little bit of extra time and he still didn’t feel right. So I think a lot it is going to be how he responds coming off [Friday’s] game, and then obviously a quick turnaround on Sunday.”


Rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu averaged 27.4 minutes in the regular season, including 40 starts. Through the first two playoff games, he was averaging eight minutes per game coming off the bench.

“It doesn’t mean that Ayo or anyone else coming off the bench isn’t important — they are,” Donovan said. “He’s fine. I think he’s a guy that always views everything as a learning experience.”

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