Zach LaVine remains focused on winning, not individual accolades

K.C. Johnson
NBC Sports Chicago

PORTLAND, Ore. --- Zach LaVine knows how the league works.

The Bulls' leading scorer talked openly before this season about how taking his place among the league's elite---where he believes he belongs---was a process predicated on winning.

The Bulls are 6-14.

"This season has been the total opposite of what we expected," LaVine said. "You can't hang your head or feel bad for yourself. Teams are going to try to kick your ass every night. We have to make a stand eventually. I feel we're going to go on a run soon. If you're not confident or believe in yourself and the team, who will?"

LaVine has scored at least 28 points in three of his last four games, including his ridiculous performance in Charlotte in which he fell one 3-pointer shy of Klay Thompson's NBA record with 13 while scoring a career-high 49 points. After a slow start, he's averaging 22.2 points.

But while LaVine's 3-point shooting stands at a career-high 40.1 percent and he's getting to the line more frequently this month, his 43.1 percent shooting overall is down considerably from last season's 46.7 percent.

With February's All-Star weekend coming to the United Center, preseason talk centered on LaVine ascending to that elite status by representing the hometown team. Instead, LaVine's slow start and the Bulls' poor start could have torpedoed his chances already.

"If you're going by that, you've already lost what you're playing for. Individual success is nice. But I know it comes by team success," LaVine said. "All I can do is take care of what I can control. I'm trying to do whatever I can to help us win. If you check your boxes off, you're good. I'm going to continue my routine and try to play at a high level. I know where my energy level is, and I'll continue to try to give that."

LaVine entered this season with his teams owning a .305 winning percentage. Granted, he missed large portions of two seasons with an ACL tear and rehabilitation. Nevertheless, the Bulls' .300 winning percentage this season falls neatly in line with LaVine's career numbers.

And it was all supposed to be so different this season.

"I wasn't complaining when I scored 10 (points) and we won," LaVine said, alluding to the Bulls' Nov. 6 road victory in Atlanta. "I've had big nights and we didn't win. I haven't won in the league yet. So I know what my priorities are."

LaVine's decision-making process to get there remains a work in progress. Twice in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds of Friday's loss to the Trail Blazers, LaVine took ill-advised shots. He launched a 19-foot fadeaway and then missed a pull-up 3-pointer just seven seconds into the shot clock against a mostly set defense.

Highlighting the contrast, Damian Lillard probed and attacked the paint twice, scoring on a 6-foot floater and getting fouled to convert two free throws.

This on a night LaVine attempted 10 free throws, so he attacked plenty with success. Asked if those two shots represented part of the growing process for LaVine in terms of recognition, coach Jim Boylen defended his guard.

"I thought Zach made a big 3 in the corner to get (the deficit) to two," Boylen said, referencing LaVine's -pointer with 31.7 seconds left for his 26th, 27th and 28th points.

But the Bulls didn't win. LaVine knows that's all that matters.

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Zach LaVine remains focused on winning, not individual accolades originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

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