CHICAGO (670 The Score) – Bulls guard Zach LaVine’s late heroics nearly rewrote the narrative Wednesday night at the United Center, but true to form for the frustrated player and a directionless organization, the game was stamped with a hallmark of their union.
After having a brutal first three quarters, LaVine caught fire in the fourth, including with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 18 seconds. The second of those tied the game at 94-all with 7.5 seconds left after the Bulls had trailed by eight with 2:08 remaining, but Magic forward Paolo Banchero responded on the other end by hitting a game-winning fadeaway in the lane with 1.4 seconds left to lift the Magic to a 96-94 win. The Bulls had a desperation chance to still win it, but forward Patrick Williams couldn’t get a shot off in time at the buzzer as Chicago had the full length of the court to traverse with no timeouts remaining.
The loss plunged the Bulls to 4-8, and LaVine was a central figure in the struggles. He scored 19 points on 6-of-16 shooting while adding six rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. LaVine made his final four shots of the game after starting 2-of-12 in a game in which the Bulls produced a 96 offensive rating (league average is 113.1), shot 39.8% and trailed by as many as 19.
LaVine’s listless performance was notable not just because he has a $215-million contract but because of who wasn’t in the Bulls’ lineup and what leaked out Tuesday about LaVine’s relationship with the organization.
Bulls star forward DeMar DeRozan missed the game due to personal reasons. His absence paved the way for LaVine to take the wheel instead of riding shotgun, but if we’re to carry this metaphor forward, it was a car wreck that no one could look away from for most of the evening.
LaVine entered Wednesday shooting just 45.5% on layup attempts this season, according to NBA.com, well below his career norms. He then shot 2-of-7 at the rim Wednesday in a scene that was downright astonishing at times.
His most perplexing moment came with 4:27 left in the third quarter, when the two-time slam dunk champion LaVine missed an uncontested dunk on a drive to the hoop. The ball caromed all the way to the Magic bench and out of bounds as LaVine and everyone in attendance tried to decipher what on earth was going on. Earlier in the quarter, LaVine had missed a point-blank layup attempt without a defensive contest.
“I’ve got to do a better job of making layups, making dunks,” LaVine said. “Wide open – you guys saw me smiling a couple times. At a certain point, it was just like, I’m missing everything. But that’s basketball. Nobody is going to feel bad for you. You got to get back, pick yourself up and try to make an impact some other way. It sucks when things aren’t going your way, but you got to figure out how to get over it.”
LaVine’s nightmare outing was also set against the backdrop of rampant trade speculation surrounding him, as both he and the organization are as open as ever to a trade that would ship him out of Chicago, according to multiple reports Tuesday. While the 28-year-old LaVine would only tip-toe around questions about his desires at shootaround Wednesday morning, he didn’t deny that he was open to a trade when pressed multiple times on the topic.
“If we need to talk about that at a time, you know … right now is not that time to really talk about that,” LaVine told reporters in the morning. “Play the Orlando Magic, try and get a win. If something comes obviously out later on that will be the time I talk about it.”
The Bulls didn’t get their win, and whatever potential scenario unfolds that could send LaVine elsewhere is more likely to play out over a matter of weeks, not days. So for now, he remains a centerpiece of the Bulls, struggling individually like he rarely has before for a team that will be flirting with disaster if it doesn’t improve its play soon.
“I’ve had the news for three years,” LaVine said when asked if he carried a heavier burden amid trade speculation. “It’s nothing new to me. It’s just a regular Wednesday.”
Cody Westerlund is an editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.