Bulls limp through back-to-back ahead of LaVine's imminent return

Los Angeles Lakers v Chicago Bulls
Los Angeles Lakers v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

After picking up a big win over the Philadelphia 76ers to close out 2023 with a bang, things wouldn't be getting any easier for the Chicago Bulls at the start of 2024. That's because Philly was due a rematch, and this time they'd have reigning MVP Joel Embiid back from an ankle injury to lead the charge against an undermanned Bulls team.

Already struggling to cope with the loss of Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Torrey Craig, and Lonzo Ball, it wouldn't take long for things to get even worse for Chicago on that front. That's because both Coby White and Patrick Williams had to leave Tuesday's rematch with the 76ers due to a pair of ankle injuries.

As you might expect, the Bulls failed to overcome this overwhelming level of adversity and lost the second game to Philadelphia. It was not even a particularly close affair. The 76ers managed to pile on a 73-42 lead by halftime on the back of a 31 points, 15 rebound, and 10 assist triple-double from Embiid, and they never looked back. Chicago had managed to build up a solid amount of positive momentum entering that game, but this loss felt like a crippling blow that could reset the team back at square one.

I'd typically try to find a silver lining beneath each Bulls loss, but I fear there were very few years to be optimistic about a game that was already decided upon conclusion of the third quarter. My concerns would only be amplified as Chicago hit the road again to take on the Knicks on the second-leg of a back-to-back, this time taking place in New York.

Zach LaVine will have to save a struggling a Bulls team if they wish to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Although Chicago managed to keep things close for as long as they could, the Bulls played some of the least cohesive basketball they have this season to close out the game. Down just 91-93 with 8:21 left in the 4th quarter, the Knicks came out as the much more prepared team and closed out the game on a 23-9 run to seal the deal.

DeMar DeRozan did everything in his power to keep the game close by contributing 28 points on an electric 10-for-13 shooting. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for his supporting cast, as Ayo Dosunmu, Williams, and Alex Caruso combined for a grand total of 25 points, shooting a ridiculously poor 9-for-33 from the field — 27.2%!

It's no understatement that the Bulls currently find themselves in a bit of a messy situation ahead of Zach LaVine's reportedly impending return to the team. Per Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, LaVine could return from injury as early as this Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.

It's difficult to say for now just how he fits back into this lineup, considering the team has been much more successful without him than with him this season. That being said, these injuries have devastated the roster and the Bulls clearly need him back now more than ever. DeRozan acknowledged how LaVine's presence could have made a big difference in the effort against the Knicks.

"We could've used that extra 20-25-30 points tonight. Give another dynamic focal point of scoring, playmaking. At end of day, it's still Zach LaVine.""

DeMar DeRozan

If LaVine embraces a more team-oriented role from here on out, this could be a real turnaround point for Chicago and even grant Zach a shot at redemption to repair his image around the league. Currently in the 11th seed while being just five game back from the 6th-seeded Orlando Magic and guaranteed playoff placement, there's still plenty of time to salvage this season.

If LaVine remains set in his ways and the Bulls continue to slide down the standings, however, he just might be the ticking time bomb that finally forces the Bulls to blow it up and initiate a true rebuild.

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