Zach LaVine debuts with 23 points in Bulls' loss, says knee feels good

CHICAGO -- Bulls guard Zach LaVine scored 23 points, grabbed three rebounds and collected four assists in his season debut on Saturday night -- a 128-96 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the team's home opener -- and said his left knee felt good after missing the first two games of the season.

"I was excited to go out there and help my team again," LaVine said after the game. "I just wish we played better. We all could have done better, especially on the home opener. But learn from your mistakes early, get back on to it. Just happy to be back out there."

LaVine played in the Bulls' first three preseason games before he began to experience discomfort after practice ahead of the season opener. He had not participated in any 5-on-5s during his recovery this offseason, so when he began feeling some pain the team decided to keep him sidelined for the first two games.

However, both LaVine and coach Billy Donovan reiterated on Saturday that LaVine's left knee is fine, even though they acknowledged the team plans to monitor LaVine's workload throughout the season, especially when they are playing back-to-back games.

"There's nothing wrong with him structurally, he's fine," Donovan said prior to the game. "It's just something that we'll have to manage. We knew we were going to have to manage that going into the season. We just didn't know when or what it will look like."

And LaVine started off the game as if to prove his knee was feeling good. He made seven of his first 10 shots and scored 17 of his 23 points in the first half, coming out aggressive on offense looking to score.

"You saw it the way he came out, he was explosive," Donovan said after the game. "He shot it and moved and he looked fine physically. That was my point, I think, the last couple days with his knee. There's been, obviously, a lot of talk about it, but the reality is that he's been cleared to play. We just have to manage him."

LaVine started the game and didn't come out until the 1:26 mark in the first quarter, a rotation that extended longer than Donovan initially intended. To make up for it, he took LaVine out early in the third quarter, limiting him to 28 minutes in the game.

Despite LaVine's return, the Bulls did not have enough to keep up with the Cavaliers and had no answers on defense. The Cavs shot 57% from the field and 59% from 3 in the game, led by Donovan Mitchell, who collected 32 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

"They did a good job of putting the ball in their playmakers hands," LaVine said. "Donovan [Mitchell] had a good game, but I just think overall they were more physical than us on both ends of the floor. And then we were just playing catch-up."

The Bulls have seven games in their first 11 days to begin the season and Donovan said the team is going to monitor the status of LaVine's knee each day to determine if he will play.

LaVine wasn't sure if he would get to a point this season where he would be available for back-to-back games, but he said he intended to play in Chicago's next game on Monday night against the Boston Celtics.

"Obviously you guys know me, I like playing all the time," LaVine said. "But got to think big picture and what's most important. We're going to figure that out as it goes along."