The Chicago Bulls have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference thanks to the stellar play of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, and Nikola Vucevic. DeRozan and LaVine are putting up MVP-type numbers, while Ball and Vucevic are playing their secondary and tertiary roles to a T.
The Bulls are well on their way to making the playoffs for the first time since 2017. However, Ball recently suffered an unfortunate setback that could have devastating short-term consequences for Chicago.
Bulls placed Lonzo Ball in health and safety protocols
The Bulls placed Ball in the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Dec. 26. According to the NBA, a player must isolate away from the team for a minimum of 10 days if he has a confirmed positive test for COVID-19. Following that period, a player must undergo a cardiac screening and reconditioning in order to be cleared to return to the court. A player who tests positive can also clear protocol by returning two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour period.
Ball, Alex Caruso, and Marko Simonovic were the only Bulls players not to enter health and safety protocols before Dec. 26. Prior to his entry, reporters asked Ball how he was staying away from COVID-19, and the point guard had an excellent answer.
“I mean, I don’t really do too much,” Ball said. “I just play and go back home.”
Bulls fans commended Ball on social media for his low-key lifestyle and felt confident about the UCLA Bruin not entering the protocols, which is why the California native believes Chicago supporters jinxed him.
Lonzo Ball reacts to entering health and safety protocols
Ball took to social media to react to his COVID-19 setback. The 24-year-old tweeted, “Y’all jinxed me.”
The Bulls will miss Ball’s presence on both sides of the floor. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.8 steals on the season while shooting 41.8% from the field, 41.9% from beyond the arc, and 77.3% from the free-throw line. Ball has a plus-minus of +96, and he’s played a significant role in the Bulls allowing only 106.2 points per game, good for ninth in the NBA.
Chicago won its first game without Ball against the Indiana Pacers. Coby White started in Ball’s place and finished with eight points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field. LaVine returned from his second bout with COVID-19 and torched the Pacers for 32 points. The Bulls improved to 20-10, marking the first time they have been 10 games over .500 since the 2015-16 season.
With DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic back from the health and safety protocols, the Bulls should be fine on offense moving forward sans Ball. However, they could take some steps backward on defense since Ball and Caruso — the team’s two best defenders — are out.
Bulls’ defense could suffer
Opponents have an offensive rating of 107.1 when Ball is on the court for the Bulls. That number increases to 111.7 when Ball isn’t playing. Caruso has a more significant impact on the Bulls’ defense. Opponents’ offensive ratings increase by 6.7 points when the Texas A&M product isn’t on the floor. Caruso will be out for the foreseeable future with a foot sprain, which means the Bulls will be without two high-level defenders moving forward.
Not only are the Bulls playing without Ball and Caruso, but they are also without their head coach, Billy Donovan. On Dec. 24, the Bulls announced that Donovan entered the health and safety protocols. This stretch without Ball, Caruso, and Donovan could be difficult for the Bulls, who play the Atlanta Hawks twice, Washington Wizards twice, Brooklyn Nets, and Golden State Warriors.
Hopefully, Ball is asymptomatic and returns to the Bulls’ lineup sooner rather than later because his defense and playmaking are two big reasons Chicago is playing well, and the team doesn’t have any other guards on the roster who can mirror what Ball does on a nightly basis.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference
RELATED: Lonzo Ball Opened Up on What It Was Really Like Getting Traded by the Lakers for Anthony Davis: ‘I Know It’s Part of the Business, but It Was the First Time I Felt Like Somebody Didn’t Really Want Me in a Way’