PORTLAND, Ore. --- You can look at Zach LaVine’s 33 points and eight assists in the Chicago Bulls’ take-care-of-business, 124-96 victory over the shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers Friday night.
And given that the Bulls played without DeMar DeRozan, who sat with his minor right quad strain, and stayed within one-half game of the ninth-place Toronto Raptors with the victory, those numbers are important.
But here’s another one: 62, as in the number of consecutive games LaVine has played.
Remember that left knee management plan under which LaVine began this season? It’s getting harder to do so.
LaVine hasn’t sat since Nov. 6, the last of four games he missed as the team’s medical and training staffs worked to bring him back from offseason arthroscopic knee surgery.
“Just been healthy with a lot of prep work, work with the medical staff. (Team physical therapist) Michael Orr has done a great job helping me every night,” LaVine said. “Missing those games sucked. It hurt. But I knew I was going to get back to 100 percent and after that I wasn’t going to take any games off like I never try to.”
LaVine hasn’t averaged less than 24.5 points over a full month since his slow start, which featured him struggling to finish at the rim and not shoot his 3-pointer as effectively. His big night against the Trail Blazers pushed his March scoring average north of 30 points-per-game, his highest monthly output.
And he knocked down six 3-pointers as the Bulls shot a sizzling 17-for-28 from behind the arc.
LaVine, who grew up in Seattle, which is a three-hour drive away, had 32 friends and family at the game. He said he always looks to be aggressive but did change his mindset a bit with DeRozan out.
“It’s always going to be hard because you’re not going to replace anybody like that,” LaVine said. “Obviously, playing with him, you have to adjust your game to where there’s two or three guys out there who can get it going when you need it. I’ve been in that position before, though, my whole career. So it’s just be a little more aggressive and read the defense a little bit differently because they might start doubling.”
LaVine long has proven he has recovered from his offseason surgery. Asked how he’s feeling overall with nine games to play, he smiled.
“It feels like it’s late March, especially after double OT games and home-away back-to-backs. But it’s OK. That’s the fun part of the season. Every game means something. You have to be ready every night regardless of how your body feels,” LaVine said. “We all collectively feel that way.
“We all have the mentality of we don’t like missing games. And we all love basketball. Competition-wise, we don’t duck anything. And this time of year, we don’t have a lot of room for error to be missing games. If one of us is out, it’s for a reason. We don’t want to jeopardize something down the line.”
That last sentiment applies to DeRozan, who got shots up twice on Friday and will undergo another day of treatment on Saturday in the hopes of playing Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers. DeRozan loves playing in his hometown, and the Bulls finish this trip with a back-to-back set of games against the Lakers and Clippers.
In this era of load management, the Bulls in general feature stars who don’t miss many games. Nikola Vucevic, who had a huge game with 23 points, 15 rebounds and four assists, has started all 73 games. DeRozan missed only his seventh.
LaVine is ready to play in his 63rd straight game on Sunday in Los Angeles.