With Washington winning and the Bulls dropping a fourth straight, the deficit for the final play-in spot widened to four games with just seven left. Bigger picture? There’s more at stake for the franchise when LaVine and Nikola Vucevic return on Thursday, and that’s draft lottery percentages.
Mathematically, yes, there’s still a heartbeat.
It’s faint, there’s lots of wires and tubes, but it’s there in the wake of the 106-94 loss to Philadelphia on Monday.
And until it’s not, the Bulls’ Billy Donovan is going to do what he can to coach this thing to the end. Not because Donovan is blindly believing that his team can overcome the four-game deficit its now facing in chasing down Washington for the final play-in spot, as much as he still sees value in the remaining seven games.
All-Star guard Zach LaVine, who has now missed 11 games in the health and safety protocol, has cleared his final obstacle and rejoined the team, while fellow All-Star Nikola Vucevic missed the 76ers game with hip soreness, but like LaVine, could be back Thursday in Charlotte.
No big deal?
Considering the lack of practice time and how important the organization considers Vucevic and LaVine moving forward? Very big deal.
“A lot of it’s just kinda been on the fly,’’ Donovan said of the lack of real time LaVine and Vucevic have had together. “I mean shootarounds aren’t necessarily physical for those guys, it’s more mental. … Obviously it’s very limited.
“There really hasn’t been a lot of time for both of those guys to get acclimated over a period of time with limited practice and then Zach missing significant time and now ‘Vuch’ being out. So yeah that would be great to be able to have both those two guys be able to develop a chemistry with one another.’’
There’s also a fine line the Bulls are walking in this. Maybe not the coaching staff and players, but definitely the front office.
The Vucevic trade also cost the Bulls a 2021 first-round draft pick, but it is protected one-through-four. Anything outside the top four goes to Orlando.
So yes, the entire franchise would love to see LaVine and Vucevic find some type of rhythm that they can carry into the offseason, but not at a cost of winning games, especially if the Wizards keep winning like they did Monday, and stay out of reach.
As it stood going into Monday’s play, the Bulls (26-39) held the No. 7 spot with a 31.9% chance to land in the top four. Slim, but something.
If they go on a hot streak and jump into No. 8, surpassing Toronto, that number shrinks to 26.3% to land in the top four. And they could also jump Sacramento at No. 9, lowering it again, this time to 20.3%.
That’s why there’s hope that LaVine being reunited with Vucevic will lead to some positive moments, just not wins.
Donovan, however, isn’t focused on the big picture. He’s just trying to get LaVine back in the mix and on track.
“I think he’s excited to be back playing,’’ Donovan said of LaVine. “I think for him getting in the gym was good. We just need a little bit of a ramp-up time before he can join the team.’’
And then maybe the Bulls can ramp up the scoring again.
The latest case in point? The first quarter against the 76ers, as the Bulls needed a Daniel Theis three in the final seconds of that first quarter just to hit the 20-point mark.
As usual there was fight with this team, turning a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to just one point with 7:01 left in the game thanks to the seldom-used Javonte Green. The defensive-minded wing was disruptive, as well as scoring seven points. Philadelphia, however, got the wake-up call and took care of business down the stretch.
“I’ve just tried to stay ready, and I know that my time will come,’’ Green said.