Bulls News: Lonzo Ball’s Devasting Injury Update Slams the Door on a Title Run

At 45-34, the Chicago Bulls are going to the playoffs for the first time since 2017. Sadly, Lonzo Ball will likely be watching his teammates from afar.

Ball, Chicago’s 24-year-old point guard, played a huge role in bringing the Bulls back to relevance before going down with a knee injury in January. Since then, they’ve managed to stay afloat in the playoff race but have looked far from the title contenders they once were.

Now, as Ball’s condition has taken a turn for the worse, it’s painfully evident that Chicago’s playoff run, while encouraging, will be cut short.

Lonzo Ball experienced yet another recovery setback

For all of the injuries the Bulls have had to endure this year, they’re actually in good shape heading into the postseason. Zach LaVine is day-to-day with a knee injury, but Alex Caruso, Patrick Williams, and Javonte Green are all back following lengthy stints on the injury report.

That leaves Lonzo as the lone man on the shelf, where it looks like he’ll stay for a while.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the fifth-year guard attempted to sprint and perform lateral drills during Tuesday’s practice. However, he was still experiencing discomfort in his left knee. Ball, who inked a four-year, $80 million pact with the six-time champs last summer, has been out since Jan. 14 after undergoing meniscus surgery.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” coach Billy Donovan said to the Tribune before Tuesday’s 127-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. “We were hoping that the time he had off could help him propel moving forward to do a little more. That certainly hasn’t been the case.”

Ball’s surgery, which took place days after his final game, carried a six-to-eight-week timeline, setting him up for a return sometime in March. But a deep bone bruise has delayed his recovery and prevented him from going at full speed. For perspective, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn has missed the entire season with a bone bruise.

Considering the Bulls have three regular-season games left before the playoffs, the likelihood of Ball suiting up again this year is minuscule. Yet Donovan isn’t officially ready to shut him down.

“We haven’t even got to that point,” Donovan said.

Ball’s injury will keep the Bulls from reaching their full potential

On the surface, Lonzo isn’t the superstar driving Chicago toward a championship. Before he went down, the former Laker and Pelican was averaging 13.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists while shooting 42.3% from the field and from three.

But his loss has dramatically impacted the Bulls, who have gone from the top team in the East to a potential six-seed.

Following Ball’s 35th and final game on Jan. 14, the 27-13 Bulls were the kings of the Eastern Conference. They possessed a top-five offensive rating and a defense that routinely sat in the top half of the NBA. With Ball, LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic, Chicago had a core that many could see going on a deep run.

Since Lonzo went down, the Bulls are 18-21. Their top-five offense has plummeted down to 19th since Jan. 15, while their defensive rating is 24th in that same span.

Even as players like Caruso and Williams return, the Bulls have yet to recapture the first-half magic they had with Ball. They’ve dropped eight of their last 12 contests while giving up 125 points or more seven times.

If Lonzo was back, Chicago would have its top playmaker and three-point shooter, as well as one of its top defenders. Instead, he’s presumably done playing in 2021-22, which spells trouble for a Bulls squad that used to have high expectations.

The Bulls are in danger of a quick elimination

Whether it’s Lonzo’s injury, a struggling defense, or simply a mental issue, the Bulls can’t beat good teams. Seriously.

Chicago is 1-1 against the 49-30 Boston Celtics, its opponent on Wednesday and potentially in the first round. That win, which came all the way back on Nov. 1, is the only victory it has against the top-four teams in the East (Celtics, Bucks, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers). Its record against the latter three clubs is a staggering 0-12.

The Bulls have even struggled to beat the top contenders out West. They’re a combined 0-6 against the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors, the top three seeds in the Western Conference. They’re also 1-1 against the four-seed Dallas Mavericks, with that victory coming nine days after defeating Boston.

Those losses have come with or without Lonzo, Caruso, or any other critical piece to Chicago’s success. So when the playoffs roll around and the Bulls are matched up against the Sixers, Bucks, or Celtics, it’s hard to imagine them suddenly winning four games in a best-of-seven.

Perhaps next year, a fully-healthy Bulls squad can do some damage beyond the regular season. But this just doesn’t look like the year.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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