How LaVine Benefited From Kevin Durant’s Olympic Lessons Originally Appeared On NBC Sports Chicago
Zach LaVine used humor when asked what he learned from being Kevin Durant’s teammate this summer at the Tokyo Olympics.
“How good he is,” said the Chicago Bulls All-Star goalie after Monday morning’s shootout before a clash with Durant and the Brooklyn Nets.
LaVine and the Bulls obviously knew that. Heck, Billy Donovan spent an entire season that ended in the Western Conference Finals, witnessing Durant’s singular ability.
“He’s like no one else,” LaVine said. “Defense doesn’t really affect him. And that’s the thing that, even speaking today, we’re going to play a really good defense against him. And he’s going to shoot a few shots at doubles teams or contested hands that he really doesn’t see. It’s just his special ability to deny defense and not let it affect him.
Durant leads the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.6 points per game for the 7-3 Nets. LaVine is fifth with 26.4 points, just behind teammate DeMar DeRozan’s 26.8 points.
Whether it’s Russell Westbrook or Steph Curry or James Harden, Durant has always played alongside at least one other All-Star. With the addition of Nikola Vučević last season and the acquisition of DeRozan in the offseason, this is LaVine’s first full season to do so.
The fact that this comes right after LaVine’s first Olympic experience, where he played a significant role in helping the USA team win a gold medal, makes it a happy moment for LaVine.
“It’s the most fun I have had to play basketball in a very long time. We have an extremely talented team, ”he said. “We’re working on some of the issues of playing with each other and things like that. But you can see the talent and how good this team can be. So I’m having fun.
The Bulls enter Monday night after losing two in a row and three of their last five, all to teams believed to be playoff contenders. The Nets pose another important test and at a time when, despite the individual brilliance of LaVine and DeRozan, the offense is stalling.
After showcasing sublime ball movement throughout the preseason, the Bulls have recorded 20 or fewer assists in three of their last four games.
“You can’t be afraid to play against these teams. Because you want to play them later in the season, ”LaVine said. “It’s a challenge to see where you are as a group and how much you can improve. I can’t wait to play against these teams. I think that’s the right mindset.
Durant has always praised LaVine even before they played together for the USA team. While in Tokyo, Durant cited acceptance of LaVine’s role as a defensive-minded player who chose his spots to unleash his strong scoring ability.
LaVine, in turn, marveled at seeing Durant up close and personally on a daily basis.
“He’s a great guy, extremely smart, an incredible teammate. We all looked to him for leadership there. Obviously we made the right decision with this, ”LaVine said. “You develop friendships and you see his work ethic and everything like that.
“I tried to tour with him every day. But he didn’t miss a workout, a routine. Every day he went to the gym he did the same workout after workout. He shot after each day. He came to the gym early. His work ethic is second to none. I just tried to get attached to it.
LaVine even used a line of thought that members of the Bulls used to say about Michael Jordan during the dynasty era.
“He didn’t miss any exercise. He didn’t miss any training, ”he said. “For the best player to do this, you just have to stand in line.”
On Monday night, LaVine will try to beat Durant and the Nets for a well-deserved victory for the Bulls.
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