Bulls begin life without Zach LaVine with a loss to the Grizzlies

Bulls begin life without Zach LaVine with a loss to the Grizzlies

The All-Star guard isn’t expected back anytime soon, with the Sun-Times reporting that LaVine tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday. And while the first half was solid against the Grizzlies, LaVine’s absence was more than felt in the second half.

The ball movement had a bit more life to it.

The supporting cast looked more involved.

There were some positives to come out of life without Zach LaVine.

But not nearly enough, and unfortunately for the Bulls this is their new norm for the time being, as the spiral downward continued with Friday’s 126-115 loss to Memphis at the United Center.

And now with just 17 games left and likely without LaVine for at least a handful of those games, the Bulls (22-33) have put themselves in a bad position that’s only getting worse.

“We’re going to miss him a lot,’’ center Nikola Vucevic said of LaVine. “We can sit here and complain about it, but it’s not going to change anything.’’

The Bulls entered a scheduled Thursday practice losers of four straight, but at least feeling like a day of work at the Advocate Center and then a rematch with Memphis (28-26) would be the perfect remedy. Just like that the season took a serious turn for the worse.

Public relations notified the media that the practice had been cancelled because of the NBA’s health and safety protocol, and the Sun-Times reported that Zach LaVine had tested positive for the coronavirus, immediately putting him into quarantine.

Considering the length of time other Bulls players have taken to get over the virus, pass all the testing, get back into shape, and then get back on the court, there’s a good chance LaVine could miss up to eight more games.

Per NBA rules, Donovan was not allowed to detail what LaVine is going through unless LaVine gives the OK to make it public, but the coach did say, “I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a few days. That’s definitely not the case.’’

That meant that Donovan and his staff had to find a way to generate the 27 points per game LaVine brings to the floor, as well as his All-Star swagger that no shot is too difficult for him to make. That wasn’t going to happen, especially against a top defensive team like the Grizzlies.

Not that Donovan didn’t try, again reshuffling the starting deck.

Garrett Temple started in LaVine’s place, while Coby White was given the nod for an ailing Tomas Satoransky (non-Covid related), but there was also a move made in the frontcourt, with Daniel Theis starting in front of Thad Young.

“We obviously are missing a really good player,’’ Donovan said of life without LaVine. “We’ve been fortunate that Zach, outside of his ankle, has been predominately healthy for most of the year. So that part of it’s been great to have him available. But now he’s not.’’

There was still a game to play, however.

For the first two quarters there was some success, as White scored 11 first quarter points to keep the Bulls even with Memphis, and Nikola Vucevic – who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds – was solid inside to keep the game tied at halftime.

Undermanned only lasted so long, and that was exposed in the third quarter when Memphis outscored the home team 37-28 and never really looked back.

Small picture? It was the fifth-straight loss for the Bulls as they have now dropped to 3-9 since the Mar. 25 trade deadline deals. Big picture, however, they were no longer holding down the last play-in spot, with Toronto now holding down the No.10 position in the Eastern Conference.

“The one thing you don’t want to look back on is having a lot of regret, and certainly there were plenty of opportunities for us over whatever it is, 53, 54 games, that we’re not getting back,’’ Donovan said. “We’re really no longer in control of our destiny, and for a good portion of the season we had been.’’

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