LaVine is helping the Bulls' playoff push with best month of his career

Much of this Bulls season could be described as dismal, but sunny skies are starting to emerge.

Their chances of making not only the play-in tournament, but the actual NBA playoffs, are growing. And the largest investment in the history of the franchise is starting to pay off.

Zach LaVine, who signed a five-year, $215-million contract last summer, is having the best month of his NBA career. Whether sighs of relief can be heard coming from the office of Michael Reinsdorf is uncertain.

LaVine scored 23 points Monday, but the Bulls were buried by a 3-point onslaught and lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 124-112, snapping a six-game road win streak.

The game was going well for the Bulls until late in the second quarter, when the hot-shooting Clippers went on a 17-6 run in just over four minutes, breaking open a tie game. The lead hit 20 late in the third quarter and the Bulls never got back in it. Nic Batum went 8-for-10 from 3-point range and the Clippers as a team knocked down 20 of 39 shots from behind the arc.

DeMar DeRozan added 21 points and 7 assists, while Nikola Vucevic scored 20. Alex Caruso was a late scratch due to a sore foot.

Giving LaVine the largest contract in Chicago sports history was a leap of faith, because the ninth-year pro has never received a vote for MVP or an All-NBA team, and he's never won a playoff series. It's also not his fault he was drafted by a terrible Minnesota team, then traded to the rebuilding Bulls.

But whether it's good health or the arrival of veteran point guard Patrick Beverley or whatever, LaVine has found his stride. He's averaging 30.3 points and 4.8 assists with a true shooting percentage of .662 in March.

"I feel like I'm supposed to be doing this," LaVine said after Sunday's win over the Lakers. "Put the work in, trust your work, understand what you put into the game and the game rewards you. If we keep playing like this, I think we'll be OK."

There's one month that might challenge for the title of LaVine's best. He recorded his highest true shooting percentage of .684 in January 2021. True shooting percentage is a formula that factors in 3-point shooting and free throws to measure scoring efficiency.

January 2021 was actually early in the no-fan season, which didn't start until late December. LaVine averaged 28.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists. That was also before Nikola Vucevic or DeRozan showed up and the Bulls went 5-8 that month. This month, they were 8-4 heading into the Clippers game.

The Bulls were also very good at the start of last season when Lonzo Ball manned the point guard spot, and now Beverley has brought a little more order to the offense. That's not to say Ayo Dosunmu did a bad job in the starting lineup, but it's a role he's not ready for.

"Give credit to Pat for coming in here and giving us a jump of life, energy, vocal leader," LaVine said. "Give us credit for understanding the situation and going out there and playing desperate."

This game was another reunion for Beverley. He spent four seasons with the Clippers and matched up against his former Lakers teammate Russell Westbrook, who chose to sign with the Clippers over the Bulls as a free agent. Westbrook's choice obviously opened the door for Beverley to return to his hometown.

On Sunday, Beverley gave LeBron James the "too small" gesture after hitting a hook shot late in the game. On the first possession Monday, Westbrook hit a turnaround jumper over Beverley and did the "rocking the baby" signal to the crowd.

Beverley had an interesting comment Sunday about why he's succeeded with the Bulls after things didn't work with the Lakers.

"If I'm a spoon, Billy (Donovan) is using me as a spoon," Beverley said. "With the Lakers, I was a spoon and they were using me as a fork. It's just different. I'm fortunate the Bulls called. I just don't want to let the city down. And obviously Billy and my players and this coaching staff, I don't want to let them down."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Nikola Vucevic scores over Clippers guard Bones Hyland in Monday's late game in Los Angeles. Associated Press
Zach LaVine smiles after making a 3-point basket during Monday's first half of the Bulls' loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. LaVine scored 23 points. Associated Press
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