Zach LaVine’s Awaited Return is Near

After missing 10 games due to the league’s COVID health and safety protocols, Zach LaVine had been cleared to return Monday night. But the Chicago Bulls ended up going an additional game without their All-Star guard.

The Bulls posted on Twitter that LaVine completed the protocols fewer than two hours before Monday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers. But the team also mentioned that he would not be playing.

Head coach Billy Donovan informed NBC Sports Chicago and other media outlets that LaVine would have been available to play Monday night if there were more time for him to prepare.

“We just need a little bit of a ramp-up time before he can join the team,” Donovan told NBC Sports Chicago and other reporters.

The Bulls went on to lose to the Sixers, 106-94, continuing to feel the struggles of being without their leading scorer. But there is hope LaVine can rejoin the Bulls on the court during Thursday’s away game against the Charlotte Hornets.

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Weekend Workout

NBC Sports Chicago also reported that, while the Bulls were in Atlanta to face the Hawks last Saturday, LaVine was working out at the Advocate Center. He’ll continue to work in preparation for his on-court return:

The plan is for him to continue rebuilding his conditioning on Tuesday and Wednesday — the Bulls have a rare two-game gap in their schedule — in advance of a road-and-home back-to-back that featured the Hornets on Thursday and the Boston Celtics on Friday.

The All-Star guard last played on April 14 in a loss to the Orlando Magic, so the practice time will prove to be valuable — especially during a season in which practice has been rare. In fact, the last time the Bulls were set to hold a practice, it had to be canceled, because LaVine had entered the league’s health and safety protocols.

In another sign of the topsy-turvy world that is this NBA season, the Bulls have been bemoaning the lack of practice time since the trade. They had one scheduled today but it was called off for health and safety protocol reasons, per Bulls PR.

— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) April 15, 2021

Bulls Missing LaVine’s Impact

Since LaVine has been out for the league’s COVID-19 protocols, the Bulls have gone 4-7. Chicago has averaged 102.7 points in 11 games sans their leading scorer, and no one has been able to quite fill his void.

LaVine’s absence and his 27.5 points per game have been especially felt during the Bulls’ past four games.

Currently on a four-game losing streak, Chicago has failed to reach 100 points in any of those defeats. In the Bulls’ loss to the Hawks, they put up just 12 points in the third quarter, losing the lead they brought into halftime. Nikola Vučević also being out due to an adductor injury didn’t help. But had LaVine been able to play then, his scoring prowess would have been valuable.

During the Bulls’ home game against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 30, LaVine was actually with the team. Although unavailable to play, he was dressed in street clothes and seated with his teammates on the bench. It marked his first time with the team since entering the league’s health and safety protocols.

Here’s the best I could do, photo-wise: pic.twitter.com/yzakt8wpvy

— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) May 1, 2021

The Bulls’ Dwindling Playoffs Hopes

Chicago took a hit when LaVine was sidelined due to the COVID-19 protocol, and so have their playoff chances.

Following Monday’s loss to the 76ers, the Bulls are now four games behind the Washington Wizards, who currently hold the final spot in the play-in tournament. They haven’t yet been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and have seven games left. But even if LaVine returns Thursday as is the hope, he would need to be back to full strength for Chicago to get back in the win column.

On top of that, the No. 12 Bulls would also need the Wizards and the Toronto Raptors to lose enough to allow them back into that No. 10 spot. So while LaVine’s awaited return would be appreciated, it just might be too late for the Bulls.

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