We all saw it coming, but the Chicago Bulls made it official this morning.
Zach LaVine will miss an elimination Game tonight due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and Alex Caruso will experience the same fate due to a concussion he suffered in Sunday’s matchup. With the Bulls already riding two-straight blowout losses to a repeat-craving Bucks squad, the absence of both players tonight will make this arguably the toughest challenge of the season.
My expectations are somewhere near the earth’s core. But, hey, at least playing undermanned is nothing new for this group, right?
Zach LaVine (health & safety protocols) and Alex Caruso (concussion protocols) are both listed as OUT for Game 5 tonight in Milwaukee. pic.twitter.com/RRgAjYCu8R
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 27, 2022
• A time like this is where the value of having to play Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White extra minutes this regular season can show itself. Again, I don’t expect the Bulls to have enough juice left in the tank to take home this victory, but at least Dosunmu and White (who I imagine will both enter the starting lineup to replace Caruso and LaVine) have been tasked with this kind of workload before. Dosunmu started 40 of his 77 games this season due largely to the injury to Lonzo Ball, and he’s clocked 36 contests with 30+ minutes played. He even has seven contests this season where he played 40+ minutes, and the Bulls actually won five of those games.
• As for White, he’s started 17 of 61 games one season after starting 54 of 69 games. I know he’s struggled mightily as of late, but at least the 22-year-old is no stranger to a changing role. We’ve watched as White has been asked to move between being a facilitator, scorer, and bench leader over his first three seasons in the league. The success has varied greatly, but I think that is somewhat understandable when we consider just how much he’s been asked to do. Fortunately, though, tonight he’ll likely be assigned to do what he tends to do best: Chuck up shots. No LaVine means missing roughly 25 points per game, and I expect to see White come out firing from the jump. White has averaged a solid 16.5 points on a 43.7 percent clip from downtown in his 17 starts this season, per Statmuse.
• If the Bulls want to keep this series alive, players like Dosunmu and White are going to have to find a way to match the level of execution we’ve seen from the Bucks’ role players. More thoughts below …
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) April 26, 2022
• The only other way I could see Chicago stealing this game is if Milwaukee arrives way overconfident. I don’t think we can necessarily rule it out, but I also feel like the Bucks likely got the kick in the groin they needed after Game 2. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. have appeared wide-awake in the past two games, and they also know that a win tonight would lock in some extra rest before a very tough Round 2.
Add "getting sufficient rest before the next series starts" to the list of reasons for the Bucks to be really motivated against an injury-plagued Bulls team tonight https://t.co/UYhe1NpX2O
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) April 27, 2022
• If tonight is the end of the 2021-22 campaign, I’m going to feel so darn bad for Zach LaVine. Not only has he had to match up with the reigning champions in his first-ever playoff series on a bum knee, but he will not get a chance to finish what he and the crew started. Even if tonight turned out to be a loss with him on the court, he would have at least got to go out on his own terms. And he certainly looked ready to do just that after a solid 24-point and 13-assists performance in Game 4.
“You got to play like it could be your last game because that’s the point that you’re at,” LaVine said on Sunday. “I think that’s the mentality that we’ve been trying to play with, but now that’s reality. If you lose anymore, you’re out, and I’m not particularly ready to go home. I hope everybody else isn’t.”
• Can he suit up tonight? Maybe we can make that number a nine.
Today in 1997: 34-year-old Michael Jordan scores 55 points in a 109-104 win over the Washington Bullets.
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) April 27, 2022
• I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it: Ja Morant has to be the closest thing we’ve seen to pre-injury Derrick Rose. He might also have some Allen Iverson elements to him, but the blend of sheer explosiveness and sneaky verticality is unlike anything I’ve seen since the Bulls’ MVP in the early 2010s. The two share an almost innate ability to pull off the highlight play, and both have made my jaw drop with their body control and acrobatic moves around the rim. Speaking of which, have you heard Ian Eagle’s call on Morant’s incredible dunk from last night? Turn up the volume and listen:
• “Ja breaker!” is an absolutely iconic phrase for a now-iconic in-game dunk. Put that clip in the Hall of Fame immediately!
• An exciting development for a Cubs’ big-hitter:
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 27, 2022
• But … it is?
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) April 27, 2022