LaVine enters health and safety protocols ahead of Game 5 originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Chicago Bulls' unlikely path to a playoff comeback against the Bucks just grew even tougher.
With Game 5 of their first-round series looming on Wednesday, and the defending champions ahead 3-1, Zach LaVine has entered the NBA's health and safety protocols, a Bulls spokesperson confirmed Tuesday morning.
The Bulls have not yet officially ruled LaVine out for Game 5, but his status is in serious jeopardy. The team will travel to Milwaukee Tuesday afternoon without LaVine as he undergoes further testing.
The NBA's testing procedures have loosened over the course of the 2021-22 season, prompting reporters to ask Billy Donovan after Tuesday's practice why LaVine was tested initially.
"I know that right now in talking to our medical guys that he (LaVine) was not feeling great, I do know that," Donovan said. "I don't know if Zach requested a test, I don't know if the medical guys requested a test, I don't know any of that. I know he’s not feeling great."
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In turn, Donovan described LaVine as "questionable" for Game 5.
DeMar DeRozan said he reached out to check on LaVine Tuesday morning, and found his All-Star running mate frustrated.
"It sucks. Before basketball, more than anything, just health-wise, it just sucks. He’s got a family of his own," DeRozan said. "I talked to him (LaVine) a little bit [Tuesday] morning, just to make sure he was OK more than anything. It wasn’t anything about basketball. It was making sure he was alright, taking care of himself first and foremost.
"I think he was more frustrated than anything, honestly. 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."
This is the third time LaVine has landed in the league's health and safety protocols. He first entered in April 2021, leading to an 11-game absence down the stretch of the 2020-21 season. He also entered in December 2021, leading to a two-game absence.
Now, the team may have to soldier on without their second-leading scorer with their season on the line. The Bulls played 15 games without LaVine in the regular season to the tune of a 9-6 record. But DeRozan cautioned that any takeaways from that stretch don't reflect the intensity of playoff basketball.
"Playing without him was extremely tough. 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 of a game when Zach isn’t out there," DeRozan said. "We’re just going to have to figure out [Wednesday] night, and the next guy up. We’ve got to find energy to fight for him as well.
"It’s night and day, regular season compared to playoffs, compared to a team that we’ve played multiple times already in a playoff series. Taking Zach out of that equation, it changes the dynamic for us to figure out how we’re going to go out there and execute. And for them (the Bucks), feeling like one of our best players is down, let’s attack them. So the mentality can change across the board. It’s next man up. It’s an elimination game, so we’ve got to go out there and leave it all out there."
If LaVine's first playoff run ends here, it will finish with averages of 19.3 points, 6 assists and 5.3 rebounds across four games. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.