The Eastern Conference playoff picture isn’t yet set in stone, fortunately for the Chicago Bulls. But they’re running out of opportunities to punch their ticket in.
That means every game is a must-win, especially with there still no timetable on Zach LaVine’s return.
Chicago will take on a Miami Heat team that’s lost four of their last seven on Saturday night, with hopes of stretching their win-streak to three games.
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Vucevic Plays Well Against Miami
There are a number of teams that have perennially suffered by way of Nikola Vucevic’s dominance, particularly in recent years.
As bad as the Orlando Magic had been during his time there, they always had a fighting chance on nights where he was available.
That was seemingly always the case in matchups with the Miami Heat.
As Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press notes, Vucevic has been historically dominant against the South Beach franchise.
Nikola Vucevic is averaging 25.7 points and 11.7 rebounds vs. Miami this season.
Only players to do that vs. Heat in a regular season (two-game minimum) are …
Karl Malone (4x), Blake Griffin, Olajuwon, Anthony Davis, Ewing, Embiid, Garnett, Jokic, David Robinson and Westbrook
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 24, 2021
That’s quite the assembly of talent: five Hall of Famers, and five active players with strong cases for the Hall themselves.
The last time Vucevic met Miami on the hardwood, he put up 38 points and hit on six-of-13 three-point attempts.
But the Magic lost by five, with only one other player (Terrence Ross, 31 points) scoring in double digits.
In fact, Vucevic has lost five of his last six against the Heat, by an average 10 points.
Can he replicate his past level of play, but earn a different outcome, now with the Chicago Bulls?
Chicago’s Lone All-Star
As was often the case with his Orlando Magic teams, Nikola Vucevic has been the lone All-Star for Chicago over their last five games.
In that stretch, they’ve gone 3-2, with Zach LaVine sidelined and in the league’s health and safety protocol.
Vucevic, outside of one bad game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, has stepped up in a big way for the Bulls.
He’s averaging 21 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and a steal since LaVine was ruled out last week.
Chicago will need Vucevic to continue that kind of play their matchup with the Miami Heat on Saturday night, if they hope to walk out of American Airlines Arena with the win.
In this game, he’ll be matched up with Bam Adebayo, who’s proved a troublesome defender for him in the Orlando Magic’s season opener this year.
With the Heat big man guarding him, Vucevic shot just three-of-seven from the field and committed two turnovers in six minutes of play.
But on the other end, Chicago’s big man held Adebayo to two-of-five shooting, and forced him to commit four turnovers of his own, per NBA.com’s Matchups tracking.
It’ll be must-see basketball on Saturday night when these two are matched up on the floor. Adebayo’s averaging 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game.
An Update on Zach LaVine
Speaking with reporters pregame, head coach Billy Donovan was asked for an update on the Chicago Bulls’ other All-Star.
His response? The same as before, with an updated slate of games that LaVine is already ruled out for.
Zach LaVine remains isolated in health protocols — he isn’t back at #Bulls‘ facility in any way yet, Billy Donovan says.
Donovan confirms what was obviously the case already — LaVine is out at least through this entire road trip, which extends to Wednesday at Knicks.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) April 24, 2021
That means that when the All-Star guard returns, the Bulls will have played at least eight games without him.
And they’ll have only 10 games remaining on the docket, if he makes his return next Friday’s matchup with Milwaukee.
It will be interesting to see how they manage his return, if the Chicago Bulls are firmly out of the playoff picture.
For now, they remain in pursuit of the 10th seed, the final play-in spot.
But the odds are stacked against the Chicago Bulls, even more so now with the latest update on Zach LaVine.
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