Organizations do tanking. We know now that the Bulls are not trying to lose as much as possible, because Zach LaVine is returning for tonight’s game against the Hornets.
LaVine was still out a bit longer than the minimum absence, which is kinda weird, but it is not some galaxy-brain stuff where the Bulls are prioritizing keeping their top-4 protected pick.
So instead we look to the play-in race, where the Bulls are almost functionally eliminated from contention but NOT YET. They are 3.5 games behind the Wizards of Washington, and 4 behind the Indiana Pacers. Given how the latter has performed lately under the apparently mad reign of Swedish Boylen, maybe it’s the Pacers who the Bulls have a better chance of chasing. They will be in Atlanta tonight while the Wiz and Raptors face eachother.
This is of course assuming the Bulls will win this game tonight. An unfair assumption given that the Bulls have not looked particularly good with LaVine in the lineup either. But they did look good even without LaVine when obliterating these very Hornets two weeks ago today. The difference for the Hornets between then and now is that LaMelo Ball is back in the lineup. Charlotte is 2-1 since Ball returned, but those two wins were against the Pistons.
It’s somewhat startling to me that the Hornets are, based on point differential, pretty even with the Bulls. Because they’ve had such a more positive-feeling season even through their own injury problems. Not just the wins, but the hope that they have a lead playmaker for the next decade.
But LaMelo is only 19, he doesn’t make that much of an on-court difference now, and the Bulls have few excuses in their way of a comfortable victory here. If they can’t do that tonight, well then maybe it is really foolish to think anything is to be gained by playing your good players the rest of this year.
Charlotte still has Gordon Hayward out. Miles Bridges is out due to Covid protocols, and backup wing Cody Martin is also out. Devonte’ Graham is doubtful.
For the Bulls, not only is LaVine probable but so is Nikola Vucevic after missing the last two games due to a hip issue. Troy Brown has been ruled out again.
Game Time: early! get your mediocre basketball watching out of the way. 6pm Central, NBC Sports Chicago