It seemed fitting that Zach LaVine’s first regular season that will finally feature a postseason following it ended on Sunday night in Minneapolis.
After all, LaVine endured three victory-challenged seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves before that franchise traded him to the Chicago Bulls to be the face of another rebuilding situation.
“You have games where you try to do everything you can, score 30 or 40 points, and still lose. It’s not a good feeling,” LaVine said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago about the significance of his playoff berth. “At the end of the day, you’re still associated with the L. It’s just tough.”
LaVine entered this season having played for teams with a winning percentage of .325. He had never before won four straight NBA games.
Now, following his eighth season and second straight All-Star season, he’s headed to the NBA playoffs for the first time.
“Everybody wants to make a big deal of the losing. Everybody has to play the cards they’re dealt. In my case, it’s not like I had a big opportunity to make the playoffs,” LaVine said. “But those tough scenarios have been able to help me be prepared for this now.”
There’s an old adage that the NBA playoffs are different. Asked what he expects, LaVine started to answer before stopping, with a smile creeping across his face.
“I gotta go through it and see what it’s like,” he said. “But...“
“You know I’m a confident dude. You know my confidence is in my game,” he said. “I put the work in for it. I’m not scared of anything.”
Here’s more from LaVine, who talked to NBC Sports Chicago before a recent road game.
NBC Sports Chicago: I don’t know if you know this but DeMar DeRozan didn’t make the playoffs until after his fifth season. Have you talked to him about his wait and that first experience?
LaVine: A little bit. DeMar and I talk all the time. We did talk a lot about our Olympics experiences (DeRozan won a gold medal with USA Basketball at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. LaVine followed suit at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics) DeMar is great about that stuff.
NBC Sports Chicago: How so?
LaVine: DeMar brings a calming presence. He’s been at the highest stage. And he’s gone through trials and tribulations to get there. He’s been able to speak with experience of what’s to come.
NBC Sports Chicago: I remember DeRozan dismissing preseason questions about his fit with you. But you weren’t asked about it as much. Did you think you two would work together?
LaVine: I thought it was going to be a match made in heaven because you have the best of both worlds. In me, you have a really, really hungry guy who’s never been to the playoffs before. And in him, he’s somebody who has an extreme chip on his shoulder who has been at almost the highest level. Our attitudes met. And we had one goal.
NBC Sports Chicago: But did you think you two would fit this well?
LaVine: I think we shut a lot of people up.
NBC Sports Chicago: With those rebuilding teams we talked about earlier, you were always the No. 1 option. You sometimes still are, but DeRozan often is now. And at the Olympics, you were a starter but essentially a role player. How will those experiences impact your playoff approach?
LaVine: I think it just shows I’ll do whatever it takes to help my team win. I can be very effective at whatever role is given me and still make a big impact and be myself. Even at the Olympics, I was able to show flashes of who I was with my regular team on the Bulls and be very effective on offense. But I also showed a different side of my game — pick up full court, take charges, dive on the floor, play defense. If I need to be the first option one night or I need to go play off the ball, that’s the approach I have. As a leader, that’s what you have to do — whatever it takes to win.
NBC Sports Chicago: Speaking of the Olympics, I remember (Team USA assistant coach) Steve Kerr talking about how impressed he was with your demeanor and performance there. What did that mean to you?
LaVine: That means the world to me. Those are the people you try to impress because they’re the people you’re among. I do want their respect and for them to understand what I’m about. It means a lot for coaches and players to have that mutual respect at that elite level.
NBC Sports Chicago: It feels like that experience started to change some lingering perceptions about you. You have never worried about those outside perceptions. But do you think performing on the playoff stage will continue this progression?
LaVine: I’m really excited to see what it’s like because I haven’t done it before. And you know I take on all challenges.