The Zach LaVine knee issue isn’t going away anytime soon.
Sure, the off-week leading into the first round playoff series helped, and the spacing between Games 1 and 2 was a temporary life preserver, but the Bulls guard admitted on Friday that there’s still mornings he wakes up and the left knee is swollen.
That was his reality back in December when the knee first started getting ornery, and that’s his reality now.
“The extra rest definitely does help because you’re not going into back-to-backs, practice is more walk-throughs and mental days, so that helps with treatment,” LaVine said. “But there’s some days it’s swollen and it’s gonna be swollen.”
And while LaVine’s offensive numbers were down across the board from the regular season through the first two playoff games, what has been noticeable was his defense seemed to be back.
Not to the level it was last summer for Team USA and then the first month for the Bulls, but definitely better than it was back in March and April, when LaVine was seemingly trying to find his way with the knee discomfort and only willing to do that on the offensive side of the ball on too many nights.
“I think for a player like Zach who is so athletic and fast, and has really relied on that for both ends of the court, when you’re not quite where you need to be there’s a period of time that he’s had to go through where he’s had to learn one: ‘How do I actually get my speed and quickness into the game on both ends of the floor?’ ” coach Billy Donovan said of his improved defense through the early playoff games. “And I think for him probably not dealing with this before in his career where he’s had to play through it, I think there’s been a figuring-out part too.
“He understands you put the jersey on, you put the shoes on, you get across the line, everybody has a job to do, and I do think he’s trying to do it to the very best of his abilities and give us everything he has.”
Which will remain LaVine’s mentality.
First, he knows the magnitude of playing in his first-ever playoff series, and secondly, when he has a teammate like Alex Caruso, who is willing to jump in front of a truck on the defensive end – bad back and all – how could LaVine not want to try and match that energy?
“I mean there’s limitations you’re gonna have, but at this point I’m just trying to throw my eggs in one basket,” LaVine said of his defense. “We’re going out here trying to win a series and you can’t think about yourself or what you’re dealing with. You pretty much gotta suck it up.”
The next test for LaVine and the knee, however, comes this weekend. Just one day off after Game 3, and then a noon start for Sunday’s Game 4 could be an issue.
“Listen, sometimes he’s had heavy loads and he’s come back and felt pretty good, and then there’s been some times where we’ve actually given him a little bit of extra time and he still didn’t feel right,” Donovan said. “So I think a lot it is going to be how he responds coming off [Friday’s] game and then obviously a quick turnaround on Sunday.”