As if losing back-to-back games in blowout fashion wasn’t disheartening enough for the Chicago Bulls, the team will now face elimination against the Milwaukee Bucks potentially without All-Star guard Zach LaVine. The Bulls announced Tuesday that LaVine has entered the league’s COVID health and safety protocols, which means he’ll likely be sidelined for Wednesday night’s Game 5 in Milwaukee. While LaVine’s status for Game 5 isn’t official yet, that means the Bulls could be without both him and starting guard Alex Caruso, whose status is also up in the air as he’s in concussion protocol.
That’s a monumental blow for a Bulls team that is already down 3-1 in the series against the defending champions, which should lessen their chances of extending this series any further. LaVine’s absence from the team comes after two Bulls assistant coaches entered COVID-19 protocols at the start of this series. Both coaches didn’t travel with the team to Milwaukee, and were cleared from protocols ahead of Game 3 back in Chicago.
This is LaVine’s third time in COVID-19 protocols, after testing positive in April 2021, then again in December when there was a league-wide outbreak. There still is a sliver of hope that LaVine could play in Game 5 if the follow-up tests are negative, which would make him eligible to play. But if LaVine is unable to suit up, and the Bulls are eliminated on Wednesday, it’ll put an end to what has been a so-so postseason debut from the guard.
LaVine is averaging 19.3 points per game in this series, which is five points below what he averaged during the regular season. He’s had two games where he’s scored fewer than 20 points, and hasn’t been as impactful on offense against the Bucks. He’s been dealing with a nagging knee injury that’s forced him to miss games here and there throughout the season, which could explain his lack of explosiveness in the playoffs. With unrestricted free agency ahead of him this summer, it’s unfortunate for him that he’ll be going into it on a low note.
Aside from what this means for LaVine, if the Bulls lose Wednesday without him, it’ll also be a disappointing finish to what has otherwise been a positive step forward for Chicago. The Bulls made the playoffs this season for the first time since 2017, and early on this year they looked like a team that could advance past the first round. However, key injuries to Lonzo Ball — who still hasn’t returned — as well as Caruso and Patrick Williams, derailed Chicago’s early season success. There have been countless obstacles that the Bulls have faced this season, and LaVine potentially being sidelined for Game 5 is just the latest in what’s been a roller coaster of a season for Chicago.