Zach LaVine played on back-to-back nights for the first time this season Wednesday, starting for the Chicago Bulls at home against the Charlotte Hornets barely 24 hours after scoring 29 points to help beat the Brooklyn Nets in New York.
LaVine’s start signals an improvement in the All-Star guard’s availability for the remainder of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the offseason.
Coach Billy Donovan said LaVine is eager to return to a full workload, but the medical staff will continue to evaluate him daily.
“He wants to play every single game, all 82,” Donovan said before the 106-88 victory over the Hornets. “He wants to do that even when he’s not feeling great, but this is something he’ll have to manage.
“There’s a cumulative effect of what’s happened over the last week to 10 days, and then there’s the forward look at the schedule. And then there is a little bit of guessing about how he may or may not feel. The more information they have as the season goes on, the more they can get a grip on how he’ll respond.”
LaVine finished with only 10 points in a quiet night, mirroring fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who scored nine points on 2-for-11 shooting. Instead it was the bench that powered the Bulls to a second straight win — even without Coby White (left thigh bruise) and Andre Drummond (left shoulder strain).
Javonte Green (17 points), Goran Dragić (16) and Derrick Jones Jr. (10) led the second unit, which scored a combined 49 points. Starting forward Patrick Williams added his best performance of the season, finishing with 16 points and five rebounds.
But the night was still promising for LaVine, who logged six assists after he played a season-high 37 minutes against the Nets on Tuesday. The decision to start him again Wednesday bolsters hopes for a future return to a full load of games.
Donovan noted that LaVine appeared to be returning to his typical explosiveness, showcasing his trademark “pop and bounce” while shooting off the dribble and driving to the basket during a 20-point fourth quarter.
“I did not see anything in the amount of minutes that he absorbed last night that made me feel like, ‘Geez, he’s still not there physically,’” Donovan said.
LaVine has missed three games this season to manage his left knee, sitting out the first two games in Miami and Washington and another road game in San Antonio. Donovan described those absences as a calculated plan by the Bulls medical staff to avoid overloading LaVine, who did not play any five-on-five basketball over the summer as he recovered from surgery.
The curtailed availability came as a blow to start the season after the Bulls signed LaVine to a five-year, $215 million maximum contract in the offseason.
Tuesday’s game began a cramped period of the Bulls schedule with six games in four cities over nine days. Donovan said the medical staff hasn’t decided if LaVine will be available for that entire slate, which includes a home-and-home, back-to-back series with the Toronto Raptors on Sunday and Monday.
Although Donovan said LaVine’s reaction to his recent workload has been a positive sign for the Bulls, the team will continue to monitor his workload — and might do so deep into the season.
“(The medical staff) feels good about how he’s responded,” Donovan said. “There may be times where he does feel good and the recommendation by the medical (staff) is not to play because of what they anticipate being a lot of load. There may be times where he feels like he’s going to feel great and he doesn’t feel great.
“It’s such a moving target. They’re making very good, educated decisions, but all they can do is forecast.”