After scoring 25 points in the Chicago Bulls' comeback victory at the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, Zach LaVine experienced some "discomfort," as head coach Billy Donovan describes it, in his left knee.
That's the same knee that LaVine has surgically repaired in 2017, and has nagged him since tweaking it in the first quarter of a Jan. 14 loss to the Warriors at the United Center. The same knee that sidelined LaVine three games before the 2022 All-Star break, and necessitated a mid-February trip to Los Angeles to see an outside specialist and receive targeted treatment.
And it's the same knee that Donovan has repeatedly stressed he, LaVine and the Bulls' medical staff will closely monitor down the stretch of the 2021-22 season as the All-Star guard attempts to continue playing at a self-described 70-80 percent of full health. Following the Pistons game, that monitoring led to LaVine sitting out the Bulls' Thursday morning practice, Saturday morning shootaround and Saturday evening matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"When he (LaVine) feels good, he wants to play. He wants to play all the time. But I think that he had some discomfort there, wasn't feeling great," Donovan told reporters before the Cavaliers game. "And I think the decision was made by Zach and the medical staff that it's better just to take tonight off and just see where he's at come tomorrow and going into Sacramento (on Monday)."
This is the first game LaVine has missed since the All-Star break. In seven games since receiving treatment — which involved draining fluid from the area and a lubricant injection — he is averaging 24.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 36.3 minutes with 48/36.7/80.5 percent shooting splits, but, as he's acknowledged, hasn't fully looked himself.
As Donovan has subtly warned, it may have only been a matter of time before LaVine missed time again. Still, this absence coming after two off-days between games prompted a question about the Bulls coach's concern level.
"We had a day and then yesterday, and I think the feeling was to see if we can get him back to ground zero where he's feeling a little bit better," Donovan said. "It's not one of these things where we've mapped out, this is what we're doing, we're sitting him here in this back-to-back, we're sitting him in here. It's gotta be almost going day-to-day just to see how he's feeling, you know? I don't know if it's necessarily concerning or not, the fact that he's had two days, it's just that there is some discomfort there."
But does the recurrence of soreness, and missing a game, represent a regression for LaVine?
"No," Donovan said. "Everything I've gotten from the doctors has been that they feel totally comfortable with him playing. There's obviously a team of doctors that are involved in this. You know, one of the doctors that's involved is a guy that handled his ACL surgery several years ago.
"Obviously our doctors here, our medical staff, there's a lot of people involved that are making these decisions and I think that everybody feels very, very comfortable that him playing is OK, and it's not necessarily regressing. It's just something he's gonna have to manage and deal with throughout the course of the season."
And so, the Bulls will too. At least Alex Caruso returned to action against Cleveland soothes the blow.