PREVIEW: Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls set to visit skidding Houston Rockets

Feb 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) dribbles the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

There was a playful moment involving Chicago rookie forward Patrick Williams and guard Zach LaVine following the Bulls’ victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday that highlighted the levity attached to the lobbying to get LaVine selected as an All-Star Game reserve.

With LaVine to his left essentially coaching the answers, Williams declared that LaVine is an All-Star. The prodding was equal parts obvious and humorous — LaVine was clearly visible on the post-game Zoom call — but it was also unnecessary given how productive LaVine has been this season.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Bulls, check out #ChicagoBulls rumors, rankings, and news here

After pouring in 38 points on 15-of-20 shooting against the Kings, LaVine boosted his scoring average to a career-best 28.9 points — sixth in the NBA. His shooting percentages across the board are also career highs: 51.8 percent overall, 42.9 percent from behind the arc and 86.2 percent at the free-throw line. LaVine is also averaging career bests in rebounds (5.4) and assists (5.1) and is shifting the narrative that he posts empty stats.

When the Bulls face the Rockets in Houston on Monday, LaVine will look to score at least 30 points for the eighth time in his last nine games. During his current stretch LaVine, who paired 33 points on 11-of-16 shooting with seven assists in a 125-120 win over the Rockets on Jan. 18, is averaging 35.1 points on 54.7 percent shooting.

“I would say that he is a guy that has impacted our team incredibly well,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “You look at players that are All-Stars, you’re saying that they’re playing at a high level individually and they’re also raising the level of their team, and I think Zach has done that.

“Zach LaVine is deserving of being an All-Star. He has played as well as anybody. I can’t imagine that there’s been many guys that have played better than him.”

While the Bulls celebrate their best player, the Rockets are attempting to steer out of their spiral without theirs. The Rockets have dropped into last place in the Southwest Division courtesy of a seven-game skid that coincides with the loss of center Christian Wood to a right ankle injury.

Wood leads the Rockets in scoring (22.0), rebounding (10.2) and blocks (1.5), and has been sidelined since sustaining the injury during the third quarter of a 115-103 win at Memphis on Feb. 4. Houston had won seven of eight games prior to losing Wood and its season has collapsed without him, with rumors now swirling that Houston will either trade or release veteran center DeMarcus Cousins when Wood returns so Cousins can sign with a playoff contender.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Rockets, check out #RocketUp rumors, rankings, and news here

A return date for Wood remains up in the air. He is aiming to rejoin the lineup prior to the All-Star break but acknowledged that he has yet to return to full on-court activities.

“It was tough,” Wood said of being sidelined while performing exceptionally. “It was definitely hard to deal with at first. But then when I found out the news that it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, I was grateful and thankful that it could have been worse. I’m here and I’ll be back soon.”

Houston will play for the first time since Feb. 17 following consecutive postponements.

–Field Level Media