‘Feel like me again’: LaVine keeps Bulls rolling

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CHICAGO — After starting the season unavailable to play in back-to-back games while coming off arthroscopic left knee surgery in the offseason, Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine‘s performance in Chicago’s back-to-back this weekend — 41-points and 11 3s in a victory in Philadelphia on Friday and 36 points and six 3s in a win Saturday night against the Utah Jazz — has the two-time All-Star feeling like his old self again.

“First couple of back to backs, I played and didn’t feel great,” LaVine said after going 12 for 21 on Saturday night. “[Now] I feel great. Legs feel healthy. Felt springy at the beginning of the game. So, yeah it’s good to feel like me again.”

LaVine has gotten hot from beyond the 3-point line, going 17 for 25 from 3 in the past two games, a welcome sign for a Bulls team that takes the fewest 3-pointers per game in the NBA (28.7). Bulls coach Billy Donovan even encouraged LaVine, who is taking about 7.5 3s per game, to increase that number and start shooting 10-15 3s, as long as they come in the flow of the offense.

“For us to generate more 3s, he can be a big part of that,” Donovan said. “And then he’s got to find a balance between shooting those threes and obviously getting downhill and either getting to the basket or passing and creating offense for others.”

LaVine’s recent resurgence and some improved synergy with his two co-stars DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic has helped the Bulls begin to build some momentum recently. Chicago has won three in a row and eight of its past 11 games. During that 11-game span, the Bulls have the fourth best offensive rating in the NBA at 119.2 points per 100 possessions.

DeRozan scored 35 points with seven assists on Saturday, the first time he and LaVine have each scored 30 points this season. To lead the Bulls to a fourth quarter comeback, DeRozan (15) and LaVine (12) scored 27 points as a duo during the final period. And Vucevic added 15 points and 16 rebounds to complement the two.

“It always helps when your best players are playing well and you’re focused on the other end,” LaVine said.

“We’re playing well. We’re making big plays. I’m not saying we’re playing perfect, but we’re competing. We’re coming to each game with a certain type of energy and confidence and we need to keep taking it game by game. We’re not trying to look ahead and get ahead of ourselves.”

LaVine’s improved health has been the biggest change for Chicago. He sat out the first two games of the season and split Chicago’s first three back-to-backs as part of a knee injury management plan to begin the year. His first attempt at playing in consecutive games resulted in one of his lowing scoring totals of the season, 10 points against the Hornets on Nov. 2.

So, a combined 77 points this week was an encouraging sign for LaVine that he was putting the knee issues that lingered all of last season behind him.

“He knows his body better than anybody and he felt like over his last several weeks he’s getting his legs back under him,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s playing the game, I would say, very easy.”

LaVine added: “That’s what happens when you come off a surgery, man. Everybody expects you to come back and be yourself or better, but without a lot of training and rehab, you’re going to have to go through those ups and downs. I’ll take it on the chin. I knew I was going to get back to what I was going to do.”

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