Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine, Nikola Vučević return for Bulls Friday

Both veterans will come off bench on minutes restriction vs. Hornets

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls’ second unit will feature some starpower for Friday’s home game against the Charlotte Hornets.

Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević both confirmed they’ll return from their respective injuries and come off the bench under minutes restrictions. Vučević missed five games with a strained groin. LaVine, who said he’ll play 25-30 minutes, missed 17 with right foot inflammation.

“I’m back man. It feels good,” LaVine said following the morning shootaround at the Advocate Center. “I’ve been away for a month. I feel good. Being hurt is never good and rehabbing is some of the worst things in the world. I’m glad I’m able to do what I love. The foot feels strong. It feels better. Hopefully, it stays that way.”

In LaVine’s case, he’ll be under a stronger spotlight because the Bulls navigated his absence with a 10-7 record amid his off-the-court story that both his camp and management are working to potentially find him a new home. To this point, no market has gained traction in advance of the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

Throughout it all, LaVine has reiterated his commitment to his teammates and the organization that signed him to a maximum contract.

“I always got something to prove,” LaVine said. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t try to prove people wrong. There’s a narrative for everything. You can spin something one way and take it another way the next day. I’m OK with that. As long as I do my job and be good with my teammates and now that I’m healthy compete, I’m more than fine with that.

“Good or bad, I’m still in a great position with my life and my family and my career.”

The Bulls got off to a 5-14 start with LaVine playing below his All-Star standards. Vučević, like DeMar DeRozan earlier this week, said LaVine’s return will be welcomed.

“He fits fine,” Vučević said. “Obviously, it’s been a little while for him. Just have him find his rhythm and be himself within our game. When Zach plays decisive and gets downhill and is shooting, it helps everybody so much. So just be himself. Be aggressive. It will probably take him a few games to find his rhythm.

“If anything, it can open up a lot more for us. The defense brings so much attention to his ability to shoot. That can help everybody. We can still play the way we’ve been playing. It’s a little bit of an adjustment when you bring in a guy like that who can score the ball so well. We have to make sure we all get everybody involved. It’s about finding the right balance. Zach understands what it takes for us to play well. I’m sure he’ll have no problem fitting in.”

That’s LaVine’s goal.

“There’s nothing different that we’ve been doing,” LaVine said. “I think guys got in a rhythm, understood their roles and started making shots. I’m trying to fit in and do the same things I was doing, just at a higher level.

“We’ve caught a great rhythm in December doing the same things we were working on in training camp. It’s just great to see it start clicking. Run, play hard, take the open shots and try to create for others. I’m just excited to be with my guys, especially at a time when things started clicking and the vibes are a lot better.”

The Bulls will be trying to re-integrate LaVine at a time when Coby White has emerged with a greater offensive role. LaVine is confident he can play his game while not interfering with other players’ development.

And he said his focus is on trying to impact winning, not his off-the court future.

“My main objective is to get back playing. If I let opinions affect me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I could care less what people think about me. I know who I am and what I do,” LaVine said. “I know what I have to do. Help provide for the team and help us win. I don’t look toward the future.”

Both players joked about how long it has been since they came off the bench. In the 17 games that LaVine missed, the Bulls’ defensive rating ranked fifth and their net rating ranked 13th.

“Defensively, we were much better. We played with more energy and were there for each other more. Just have to continue to do that,” Vučević said. “Offensively, play with the same energy, play for each other and move the ball. These are things we have done with Zach in the lineup.”

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