Bulls

Guard Zach LaVine looks poised for a huge season, but Bulls lose again

Before the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee betrayed him in early 2017, guard Zach LaVine had put together a December to remember. He averaged 22.7 points in 15 games with the Timberwolves that month. He shot 46.5 percent from three-point range and scored 20 points or more in 10 of those games, including a 40-point explosion against the Kings.

And he did it as a secondary option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

LaVine’s season ended that February, and his time with the Timberwolves came to a close a few months later, when he was traded to the Bulls on draft night in a package for Jimmy Butler.

Which brings us to the question: Can LaVine — now fully recovered — not only lead the Bulls in scoring this season, but also potentially lead the NBA in coach Fred Hoiberg’s high-octane offense?

“Big year? Yeah,” teammate Kris Dunn said of what he thinks LaVine can bring this season. “And I think it’s going to come easy for him. As long as he stays focused, we stay together as a team and he keeps being a leader for the group, I think it’s going to be easy for him.

“I’ve seen that in Minnesota. And he did that with two other great scorers around in Wiggs and Karl. People are shocked he can score the ball so well. I’m not shocked at all because I’ve seen it.”

So have the Bulls. Well, at least glimpses of it. Last season, LaVine had a four-game stretch in which he scored 23, 21, 27 and 35 points.

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He says he’s entering this season with “a lot of motivation.” The Bulls matched a four-year, $80 million offer from the Kings to keep him in Chicago and have put him in a leadership role. He’s confident he has the game to back all of that up.

“I’ve got a lot of things to prove,” LaVine said. “And knowing myself, I’m a hard worker, and I go into every season and evaluate what I did good and bad. I feel really good. This is the first offseason I’ve had in a couple years to actually get my legs, work out. I’m in a really good place.”

In the Bulls’ first preseason game last week against the Pelicans, LaVine scored 21 points in 24 minutes. His follow-up in Milwaukee was less than stellar: eight points and a bruised thigh. However, the talk coming out of practice since the first day of camp has been all positive regarding LaVine’s scoring ability.

It was on display again Monday night in a 110-104 preseason loss at Charlotte, where LaVine scored a game-high 26 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 shooting. That included 4-for-6 from three-point range.

NOTE: Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg used the same starting lineup against the Hornets that he has used since Lauri Markkanen’s elbow injury, with Jabari Parker at Markkanen’s four-spot and Justin Holiday at the three.

Parker had a second straight shaky shooting performance: 3-for-11 for nine points. He’s now a combined 4-for-23 in his last two games. Meanwhile, the Bulls’ defense continued to look pedestrian.