Zach LaVine makes his case to be an All-Star for a National TV audience

The Chicago Bulls won 3 of their 4 games last week, bringing their season record to 13-16, and putting them in the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference. The winning was definitely helped by the return of Wendell Carter Jr to the lineup from the deep thigh contusion that kept him sidelined for a couple weeks. Wendell was sporting a new aggressive attitude on offense, and is averaging 14.5 points per game since his return last Monday night. 14.5 points, 5.25 rebounds, about 2 assists, and 1 block per game is what he’s averaging since Monday’s overtime win against the Indiana Pacers (120-112).

Last Wednesday, the Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons (105-102), in a short notice, schedule-shuffled-due-to-Covid game. The Bulls were supposed to have a matchup with the Charlotte Hornets, but their team was Covid quarantined, so the league substituted the Pistons instead. The Pistons are working on a rebuild of their own and currently have the worst record in the Eastern Conference, and 2nd worst in the NBA behind only the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even so, the game was a lot closer than it should have been, and featured the Bulls climbing out of a 25 point 1st half hole. But they did overcome that massive 1st half deficit, and they did beat a team they should have, even if the first half wasn’t very pretty. ‘Nuff said.

Which brings us to Friday’s ESPN game against the Philadelphia ‘76ers; the lone loss the Bulls suffered this past week, and the only nationally televised game on the Bulls schedule (so far). The game proved to be the Joel Embiid showcase, as the ‘76ers big man tore the Bulls apart. He dropped 50 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, with 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks. Embiid was a beast that could not be stopped, and Philadelphia dispatched the Bulls 112-105.

It was a poor shooting night for the Bulls, and Zach LaVine especially, who picked the absolute worst night to go cold from the field. With just a couple games left to prove he belongs on the All-Star team, LaVine posted his most inefficient 30+ point scoring effort of the season, playing into the one criticism people have left to hurl at him: He’s an empty calorie scorer that takes too many shots and doesn’t effect winning. Anyone who has watched the Bulls regularly this season knows that argument is complete bullshit. LaVine has been historically efficient scoring the basketball, and is close to shooting 50/40/90 ( 50+% on Field Goals, 40+% on 3 Pointers, and 90+% on Free Throws) a feat that has only been accomplished by Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry. Even with a less than stellar shooting outing against Philadelphia, Zach managed to scrape 30 points together, and has scored 30+ points in 7 of his last 8 games. The dude is on a mission to make the All-Star team.

Zach’s last chance to make an All-Star impression came last night in the Bulls 122-114 revenge win against the Sacramento Kings. LaVine did not disappoint. He scored 38 points on a super efficient 15-20 shooting, and just to make sure everyone knows he’s more than just a scorer, he led the team in steals with 3, highlighting his improved defense. He also took over the game during crunch time, scoring 7 of the Bulls last 11 points of the game. It’s becoming more and more common that when the Bulls walk onto the court, while they might not have the better team, they more than likely have the best player. I’ve missed that feeling.

Still Out

While Wendell Carter returned from injury, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr remain sidelined. Markkanen is suffering from a bad shoulder, and Porter has a bad back. Markkanen should be back in a couple more weeks, but no timetable has been set for Porter. Joining the pair of wounded players on the bench is Chandler “Who?” Hutchinson. No one is really sure why Hutch is sitting out right now, maybe it’s related to his early season bout with Covid, or maybe he’s in Coach Billy Donovan’s dog house, either way, he hasn’t even suited up for a game in over a week. With all three on the sideline, it’s put a strain on the Bulls wing position, leaving Patrick Williams, Denzel Valentine, and Garrett Temple to pick up the slack.

Still To Come

The Bulls will face off against the Houston Rockets (11-17) on Monday of this week, the Minnesota Timberwolves (7-23) on Wednesday, and the Phoenix Suns (19-10) on Friday. Special note: Tuesday, February 23rd, will be an important day for Zach LaVine, that’s the day the All-Star reserve players are announced. I’m hopeful the Bulls can walk away from next week having won more games than they lost for the second week in a row, and with their 1st All-Star in 4 seasons.

Until they do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!