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LaVine plays waiting game for Bulls' last-second shots

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Zach LaVine is a team player. He’s also a competitor.

So what it’s like for those dueling dynamics to co-exist as LaVine watched DeMar DeRozan’s number get called again for a potential game-winning shot in the Chicago Bulls’ 103-102 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers?

“It’s not difficult. I mean, look, you understand what he’s done in his career. He’s made a lot of those shots. I’ve also made a lot of those shots. So you live with the decision,” an upbeat LaVine said. “I ride or die with him every time he takes a shot like that because I’ve seen him make more than he missed.”

Indeed, Caris LeVert played for the Indiana Pacers on New Year’s Eve 2021 when DeRozan sank an improbable, one-legged 3-pointer to beat his team. Now on the Cavaliers, LeVert knew who would take the Bulls’ last shot Saturday night.

“The whole world knew,” LeVert told the Associated Press. “He makes those plays all the time.”

Indeed, DeRozan followed his New Year’s Eve 2021 heroics by kicking off 2022 with a bang. He sank another high-degree-of-difficulty 3-pointer to beat the Washington Wizards on New Year’s Day, becoming the first player in NBA history to sink buzzer-beating 3-pointers in back-to-back games.

DeRozan also just beat the Knicks with a stone-cold 22-foot jumper with 0.1 seconds left while also being fouled. He owns the moniker “King of the Fourth” for a reason. He long has been one of the NBA’s best closers and clutch players.

LaVine used to be the consistent final shot option for the rebuilding Bulls. He remains an option in coach Billy Donovan’s late-game play calls; he’s just not usually the primary one.

Does LaVine remain confident in his ability to deliver in clutch moments if he ever is again in the future?

“Come on now,” LaVine said. “You know that. I think I’m the most confident guy there is.”

Oftentimes, including in the road victory over the Knicks, LaVine will either set or slip a screen action with DeRozan, forcing the defense to make a choice.

On Saturday night, LaVine ran off a pindown from Nikola Vucevic to come to the top of the key, briefly finding space. But DeRozan had already broken off Donovan’s play call to work from the elbow, reading Donovan Mitchell’s defensive help for the primary defender in LeVert and choosing in a split second to drive towards the baseline before lofting his one-legged, decent look.

“It was a post up (for DeRozan) and pindown (for me), but we weren’t able to get into it,” LaVine said of the final play call. “We might’ve been able to call a timeout. But at that time, you’re just looking to get it in and get a good shot. We weren’t able to get the exact shot we wanted. But I’ve seen DeRozan make those before.”

LaVine scored seven of his 15 points in a 74-second flurry midway through the fourth. But in a one-point loss, he looked inward, ruing his missed layup over Jarrett Allen with 2:26 left and the Bulls down five.

“I had plenty of opportunity. I missed a layup down the stretch that could’ve put us within three. My number was called for that,” LaVine said. “We’re going to be in that (late-game) situation again. And we’ll see what happens.”

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