February 23, 2024

As the Chicago Bulls stretched and sliced through the Lakers defense , it felt like a player on the bench in street clothes was having the biggest impact.

It’s been impossible to ignore that the Bulls’ recent turnaround has happened with Zach LaVine on the bench because of a foot injury. It’s also impossible to ignore what LaVine could do for a team like, say the Lakers, who clunked and clanged their way to a 124-108 loss to LaVine’s (for now) Bulls.

But it’s only been speculation, the easy matching of a star player who shares representation with LeBron James and Anthony Davis to a team that traditionally has been on the lookout for big names.

LaVine’s contract, which has four years and approximately $176 million left, and concerns about his injury history, have cooled his market — along with one of the least-efficient seasons of his career.

But with him and the Lakers in the same building Wednesday, “what if” was a fair-enough question, especially with the team stuck in a post-Vegas hangover for the ages.

Since winning the in-season tournament, the Lakers have lost four of five, including three straight. A hellacious stretch continues Thursday in Minnesota.

Against the Bulls, the Lakers got good offense from James (25 points), Austin Reaves (21) and Taurean Prince (16) and so-so nights from Davis (19 and 14 rebounds) and Cam Reddish (13 points).

In a game in which it quickly became clear that they would need to win with offense, not defense, the Lakers could only briefly threaten. The Bulls made six more threes on three fewer attempts, eight players scoring in double figures led by DeMar DeRozan. Alex Caruso, one of biggest prizes should the Bulls decide to trade him, had 15 points and six rebounds.

And the Lakers’ supporting players like D’Angelo Russell and Rui Hachimura couldn’t do enough on either end to help, the pair combining to make just three shots on 15 attempts. For Russell, it was the first time since 2017 that he scored two or fewer points while playing at least 20 minutes.

The problems weren’t limited to offense. The Lakers once again failed to capture the intensity or energy they thrived with during the tournament, a cost they seem to be paying as they trudge through a stretch of schedule that has them on the road for four of the final six games this month.

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