Forward DeMar DeRozan was searching for the right words when he was asked about the latest gut punch the Bulls endured Tuesday and finally settled on something from the heart.
”I mean, it sucks,” DeRozan said, sounding somber. ”It just sucks.”
He wasn’t alone in that feeling, either.
What was supposed to be a last practice before heading to Milwaukee for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series Wednesday against the Bucks turned into more adversity for the Bulls, who have had their share of it all season long.
The Bulls announced guard Zach LaVine had entered the NBA’s health-and-safety protocols for the coronavirus.
The team announced on Wednesday morning that LaVine would not play in Game 5.
It is the second time this season LaVine has been in the protocols and the third time in the last year. He also had a contact-tracing scare last summer with Team USA but avoided testing positive.
”Before basketball . . . just health-wise, it just sucks,” DeRozan said. ”He’s got a family of his own. It just sucks being in that situation, feeling that way. First and foremost is for him. Second of all, us not having him. Him missing a full opportunity of playing in a playoff series. I mean, it’s frustrating. I can’t even imagine how he feels. The most important thing now is he comes out of that thing being healthy.”
DeRozan said he spoke with LaVine on the phone, and it obviously wasn’t the most upbeat conversation. The Bulls are down 3-1 in the series and face elimination.
”I think he was more frustrated than anything, honestly,” DeRozan said. ”He was just frustrated. I think your frustration outweighs anything else, regardless of how he felt. I was just trying to be there, keep him positive mentally more than anything.”
In an extra bit of bad news, the Bulls said on Wednesday that guard Alex Caruso, who was in the concussion protocol, would also miss Game 5.
With LaVine out, the Bulls will miss the 19.3 points he has averaged in the first four games of the series, and it would mean the Bucks would have one fewer key piece to focus on defending.
DeRozan was getting double- and triple-teamed before LaVine’s illness, so imagine what the Bucks’ defense would have in store for him without LaVine.
”Playing without him was extremely tough,” DeRozan said of regular-season games when LaVine was sidelined. ”He’s Zach; it’s hard to replace that. What he brings, who he is, the attention that he brings, it’s a different dynamic when Zach isn’t out there. So not to have him and playing those games without him, it was definitely tough.
”We’re just going to have to figure out [Wednesday] night, and [it’s] next guy up. We’ve got to find energy to fight for him, as well.”
The Bulls already faced an uphill battle in trying to turn the series around, but the task would be even more difficult without Caruso and LaVine.
”We never really cared for the outside noise,” center Nikola Vucevic said of the Bulls being written off. ”You can’t focus on that. There’s so much of it nowadays — media, social media, fans on social media, whatever it is. You just have to focus on yourself, your team and what we can do to go out there and extend this series.
”People are gonna write what they want to write, say what they want to say. It is what it is. We’ve gotta focus on ourselves.”