LaVine enters health protocols with Bulls trailing Bucks 3-1

CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls might be without Zach LaVine when they try to avoid a playoff knockout by the Milwaukee Bucks after the two-time All-Star entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Tuesday.

The Bucks lead the first-round series 3-1 and will try to wrap up the series in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Coach Billy Donovan said LaVine wasn’t feeling great. Donovan was informed as the team was getting ready to practice that his player was entering protocols.

The Bucks won the past two games in Chicago by a combined 54 points, and the defending NBA champions did it without Khris Middleton, who is out with an left knee injury.

LaVine, meanwhile, has been in and out of the lineup for Chicago the past few months because of a sore left knee. Now, he’s in the health and safety protocols for the third time in a year: He tested positive for the coronavirus last April and again in December.

“We’ve kind of dealt with this all year long,” Donovan said. “Whether it’s been injury and/or COVID, we’ve had guys in and out. I think a lot of times our mentality has been next guy up. Guys have done a pretty good job handling that. Any time you lose a player like Zach LaVine, there’s no question it impacts your team just as Middleton impacts their team.”

The Bulls were 9-6 in games LaVine missed. Whether he plays or not, the Bucks insisted their approach won’t change.

“Obviously we’ve got to know our personnel, we’ve got to know who’s subbing in if Zach’s unable to go, what their tendencies are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, how they’re going to play as a team – my guess would be a little more ball movement, things of that nature,” Milwaukee guard Pat Connaughton said.

“But for us, we want to make sure we’re putting our best foot forward, we’re playing our best basketball, so the mentality can’t change whether Zach plays or doesn’t,” he said.

With guard Alex Caruso in concussion protocol after taking an inadvertent hit to the face from Milwaukee’s Jevon Carter on Sunday and point guard Lonzo Ball suffering a season-ending knee injury in January, the Bulls could be down three starters as they try to avoid elimination.

LaVine averaged 24.4 points during the regular season and made his second straight All-Star team. The eight-year veteran is averaging 19.3 points in his first playoff series.

“It’s frustrating,” said DeMar DeRozan, who talked to LaVine on Tuesday morning. “I can’t even imagine how he feels. But the most important part now is making sure he comes out of that thing feeling healthy.”

The Bulls finished sixth in the Eastern Conference at 46-36 after spending part of the season at the top. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and ended a run of four straight losing seasons.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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