Chicago Sun-Times


LaVine might be playing his best ball of season, but Bulls have little, if anything, to show for it


It was Bulls guard Zach LaVine’s told-you-so moment.

LaVine was discussing his second 40-plus-point outburst in the last three games Sunday, as well as what he has been doing since his left knee has gotten back to feeling 100%, and insisted: ‘‘I told you once I got healthy I’d get back to playing the way I was supposed to. It takes time to get back to full strength. I feel I’ve been playing well.’’ He undoubtedl­y has.

In his last 10 games — his best 10-game stretch of the season — LaVine is averaging just less than 29 points and is shooting 51.6% from the field and 42.9% from three-point range. Of course, his assist average has dipped during that time, but point guard Patrick Beverley doesn’t want LaVine playmaking anyway. And he has two five-turnover games in that span.

Then there is the fact that the Bulls are 3-7 and have fallen further off the pace in the Eastern Conference playin chase while LaVine has been ‘‘playing the way I was supposed to.’’

A deeper dive into LaVine’s last 10 games shows his scoring average against teams in playoff or play-in position, such as the Suns, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Cavaliers and Nets, is 24 points. Against the Cavaliers, Suns, Bucks and Raptors, who are ranked among the top 10 in the league in scoring defense, that average is 21.3.

Some would say this is nitpicking. After all, LaVine has five 40-pluspoint games so far this season. But a closer look reveals that four of them have come against teams ranked among the bottom seven of the league in defense, including two against the cellar-dwelling Pistons.

LaVine also ranks ninth on the Bulls in ‘‘clutch’’ field-goal percentage (36.1%) — defined by the NBA as the last five minutes of a game that’s five points or closer — behind players such as Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso and Goran Dragic, who is no longer even with the team.

And the Bulls entered Monday tied with the Pistons for the third-fewest clutch victories this season, sporting an ugly 11-22 record in those situations.

When forward DeMar DeRozan was the clear closer for the Bulls last season, they were 25-16 in clutch situations. But DeRozan isn’t exactly delivering this season, either. Then again, he no longer is being paid to carry the franchise at 33 years old.

There are almost 10 million reasons why the torch should have been passed from DeRozan to LaVine last summer. That’s the pay difference between the two now that LaVine is a max-contract guy. That difference will be almost $12 million next season.

The Bulls always can hope LaVine morphs into an elite two-way player in his 10th season, catapultin­g them up the Eastern Conference. That’s what the highest-paid player on a team is supposed to do.

The first-place Bucks have Giannis Antetokoun­mpo ($42.4 million this season), the second-place Celtics have Jayson Tatum ($30 million) and the third-place 76ers have Joel Embiid, whose salary will jump to $46.9 million next season.

The Bulls have LaVine — and his belief that his 29-36 team still can make some noise with 17 games left.

‘‘You’re not going to go out there and say the season is over with,’’ LaVine said Sunday. ‘‘I don’t know how you guys [in the media] think, but we don’t think that way.’’

Good. Now prove it.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Zach LaVine is averaging 29 points in the last 10 games, but the Bulls have gone 3-7.
GETTY IMAGES Zach LaVine is averaging 29 points in the last 10 games, but the Bulls have gone 3-7.

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