It’s hard to ask for a better start if you’re the 8-3 Chicago Bulls. However, just 11 games in, the Bulls have already lost one starter for the entirety of the season plus a second for the immediate future. Fortunately, Chicago will be able to survive thanks to Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan — two elite scorers who have put themselves in a category with Bulls legends Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
The Chicago Bulls lost Nikola Vucevic due to COVID-19
Fortunately, COVID-19 is not as prevalent in the NBA this season as it was last season. But we are still seeing a few players testing positive, including Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid. Now, Nikola Vucevic is joining the list.
Vucevic entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Thursday after testing positive for coronavirus. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago had previously reported the Bulls were fully vaccinated, which presumably includes Vucevic. However, the veteran center guarded Embiid in back-to-back games just before Embiid tested positive.
The 31-year-old will be out of the lineup for the next 10 days, but he could return sooner if he tests negative twice in a row over a 24-hour period. This season, Vucevic is averaging 13.6 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.
Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are carrying the Bulls
Vucevic’s absence will no doubt hurt. Chicago will go against big men like Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic in its next five games with backup centers Tony Bradley and Marko Simonovic. But the Bulls are a team built on LaVine and DeRozan.
DeRozan signed with Chicago this offseason on a three-year, $85 million deal. While there was initial skepticism about how his style would mesh with LaVine’s, the two are a match made in Heaven. Entering Friday, DeRozan leads the team with 26.0 points per game. Behind him is LaVine, who is averaging … 25.9 points. The two are also neck and neck in field-goal percentage, with Zach holding the slight edge at 49.3% to DeMar’s 48.8%.
LaVine has scored 20 or more points in 10 of 11 games, including in each of his last eight games. DeRozan, meanwhile, had 20+ in nine straight games before ending the streak on Wednesday. Those lengthy scoring streaks placed the pair in rare company, as they joined Jordan and Pippen as the only duos in Bulls history to score 20 or more points each in seven straight games.
DeRozan and Lavine will hold things down until Vucevic returns
The two All-Stars have scored at a high level all season. But they’re also scoring consistently, regardless of opponent. That bodes well for a Bulls team preparing for a five-game road trip that starts with a bout against the Golden State Warriors.
DeRozan and LaVine have been the main standouts for the Bulls, who rank in the top 10 for both offensive and defensive rating. While their performance will be the deciding factor for how they fare without Vucevic, guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso have also been excellent additions to the revamped roster.
“We just got a totally different energy with the team,” LaVine told ESPN during the opening week of the season. “We expect to play this way. … This is the most excited I’ve been playing basketball.”
As long as Chicago’s newest 1-2 punch keeps on trucking, the Bulls will survive without their center.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.