Bulls’ Zach LaVine hopes knee injury management plan is in past
LaVine hopes knee injury management plan is in past originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
After four in their first 12 games of the season, the Chicago Bulls’ home-road back-to-back set this weekend marks their first since Nov. 6 and 7.
But this is not news because of a scheduling oddity that sees the Bulls tip off in Atlanta against the Hawks on Sunday less than 23 hours after doing so in Chicago against the Mavericks on Saturday.
It is news because, after a month of this storyline subsiding, Zach LaVine's availability was once again a question after the Bulls' 144-115 win on Saturday.
In three of the Bulls' first four back-to-backs of the season, the two-time All-Star sat at least one of the two games as part of a fluid injury management plan that originated with him feeling discomfort in his left knee at the tail end of training camp. Billy Donovan still describes that management as a day-by-day process, coordinated in collaboration with LaVine and the Bulls’ medical staff, and taking into account LaVine’s workload and physical condition.
But LaVine, who has maintained all along he desires to play every game, slammed the door shut on the idea of a potential rest day in Atlanta.
“Yeah,” LaVine said flatly when asked if he will play. “Regardless of how (many minutes he played) tonight (against the Mavericks), I was playing either way. I feel good.”
And lo and behold, when the Bulls' first injury report was released Sunday morning, LaVine was unlisted.
Even before LaVine logged just 27 minutes — and none in the fourth quarter — of Saturday's game, this was predictable given that this back-to-back is sandwiched by two off nights apiece on Thursday and Friday of last week and Monday and Tuesday of this one.
But it is clear that LaVine hopes knee management is a thing of the past moving forward as well. Especially because his inconsistent availability did little to help him acclimate to begin 2022-23.
Indeed, LaVine struggled by his standards earlier in the season, particularly finishing at the basket and finding his outside shooting stroke on a consistent basis. Through each peak and valley, he reiterated he was in the process of finding his rhythm after a disjointed offseason in which he underwent knee surgery and was limited in terms of his typical time playing 5-on-5.
While the sample size is small, recent evidence of that rhythm coming to fruition is beginning to mount.
In five games since snapping a six-game streak of games under 41 percent shooting from the field, LaVine is averaging 24.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and two steals while shooting 38.9 percent from 3-point range and 75.9 percent in the restricted area. Even removing the first of those games — a blowout loss to the Suns in which most of his statistics were accrued with the game out of hand — LaVine's averages in four December games are strong: 25.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range and 77.3 percent at the rim.
That span features an elite finishing night against the Kings (10-for-10 in the restricted area), scorching hot 3-point shooting performance against the Wizards and a high level of defensive activity throughout. So LaVine was unbothered that Saturday snapped a six-game streak of 20-point games.
“It wasn't perfect coming back, obviously. But I feel really good right now,” LaVine said. “Getting some rhythm back, getting my legs under me. Shot’s feeling good. I had a little 20-point streak going on, so I'm gonna count that as the same thing tonight, I just didn't play in the fourth.”
It is difficult to quantify “rhythm,” or “feel.” But LaVine knows it when he sees it.
“It's just the whole game, how your body feels,” he said. “I'm a rhythm player, always have been. And getting in that rhythm, that timing, it's something big.
“I'm talented enough to find it throughout the game, but consistently, one through four quarters feeling good and timing, rhythm, it's felt good the last couple weeks and (I) just want to keep it going.”
Sunday marks an opportunity to do just that. In the only back-to-back LaVine has completed so far this season, he followed a 20-point fourth quarter in a comeback win over the Brooklyn Nets by shooting 4-for-16 in a rout of the Charlotte Hornets at home.
Stay tuned to see what he has in store this time. And if it’s up to LaVine, he will be out there for every game moving forward to continue the process.
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