Injured starters Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic might as well be labeled the cavalry for the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have lost three of five without Vucevic (groin) entering Friday’s visit from the Charlotte Hornets and have been treading water with LaVine sidelined with right foot inflammation since late November. Both former All-Stars were cleared to return on a minutes restriction on Friday just as the high mileage of life without them was setting in for Chicago’s veterans.
Reflecting on the Bulls’ latest defeat, Wednesday’s 116-100 road loss to the New York Knicks, leading scorer DeMar DeRozan acknowledged the absences are taking a toll.
“Not to make an excuse, but we miss a lot of critical guys at a critical time,” DeRozan said. “We’ve all been doing our part (to) hold down the fort as best we can.
“But it’s come to the point where we’re missing other guys that can contribute, more bodies that we can throw out there. We need the rest of the troops, that type of feeling.”
LaVine said he’s coming back hoping to fit in and contribute to a winner after more than a month away amid rising rumors about trade interest.
“There’s nothing different that we’ve been doing other than guys got in a rhythm, understood their roles and obviously started making shots. When you win, everything gets better and you play better. I’m coming in and trying to fit in and do the same thing I was doing, just at a higher level,” said LaVine, who went out of the lineup when the Bulls were 5-14.
Chicago went 10-7 without LaVine, and ball and body movement were two of the highlights mentioned by the Bulls as the reasons why.
While DeRozan (28 points), Coby White (26) and Andre Drummond (13 points, 16 rebounds) helped Chicago stay afloat Wednesday, the team’s compromised depth was evident during an 0-2 road trip that started with Tuesday’s 13-point loss at Philadelphia.
On Wednesday, New York outscored Chicago by 26 after Alex Caruso drilled a trey to give the Bulls a 54-44 lead late in the second quarter.
“We didn’t make enough plays tonight,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “We made plays in the first half, but we weren’t able to make them in the second half.”
Charlotte, meanwhile, relied on Terry Rozier throughout Tuesday’s 111-104 victory at Sacramento, although coach Steve Clifford said the guard was “just incredible” in the fourth quarter.
Rozier, who missed the previous game due to illness, scored 14 of his 34 points in the fourth as the Hornets stopped an 11-game losing streak.
Charlotte ended the game on a 10-0 run, with Miles Bridges (27 points) and P.J. Washington (17) complementing Rozier.
“When you lose, sometimes people don’t understand how frustrating it is for the players,” Clifford said. “The guys put a lot into it. They’re professional players. They’re professional for a reason. To lose that many games in a row is difficult. Our guys hung in there. Just kept playing hard.”
The Hornets regrouped from Monday’s 18-point loss in Denver and will seek to earn successive victories for the first time since Nov. 20-22.
“These past couple games, obviously we fell short, but we did a lot of great things,” Rozier said. “And that’s what Coach kept talking about. Just picking up where we left off.
“We know it’s going to turn for us. Maybe this game is going to be the one that turns it around for us. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Friday marks the end of a season-high six game road trip for the Hornets, who are set to host the Bulls Monday.
Fueled by 29 points from DeRozan, Chicago topped visiting Charlotte 111-100 Dec. 6 for its third straight victory in the series.
Drummond has three double-doubles in his past five games against the Hornets.
–Field Level Media
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