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Bulls hope LaVine finds stroke versus Blazers

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The biggest problem for the Chicago Bulls of late hasn't been the distraction of a potential trade involving forward Nikola Mirotic.

Health has been a bigger issue for the Bulls (18-32), who visit Moda Center on Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers.

Guard Zach LaVine returned to action Jan. 13 after missing the first half of the season following ACL surgery on his left knee. LaVine has struggled with his shooting in the past two games, though, going a collective 5 for 28 from the field. In a 110-96 loss to Milwaukee on Monday, LaVine was 2 for 11 and collected six points, five rebounds and five assists while playing a season-high 26 minutes for the second straight contest.

"I have to make shots," LaVine told the Chicago Tribune. "It's frustrating. I put a lot of work into it. I had a lot of in-and-outs and really makeable layups. I have to do better. I have all the confidence in the world in my game."

LaVine, who averaged 18.9 points in 47 games for Minnesota last season, remains an important weapon for the Bulls.

"Zach's offense will come," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He's a proven scorer. He's missing shots he normally makes, shots he made when he first came back. He's too good a shooter and athletic enough to finish at the basket, which he's not doing a great job of right now. The encouraging thing is, his defense has been better."

Second-year point guard Kris Dunn will miss his sixth straight game after taking a nasty fall while dunking in a loss to Golden State on Jan. 17. Dunn, who is averaging 13.7 points, 6.4 assists and 4.6 rebounds in 40 games this season, suffered a concussion and two dislocated front teeth.

"We miss Kris," Hoiberg said. "We're a much better team when we get the ball up the floor quickly, and Kris is our best pace guard. That being said, we still need to play the right way. We have to get our competitive edge and spirit back."
Jerian Grant and Denzel Valentine will share point guard duties in Dunn's absence.

Portland (28-22) has won three games in a row and six of its last seven outings after a 104-96 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on Tuesday night.

"We're in a good place," point guard Damian Lillard said before the Clippers contest. "Considering the ups and downs we've had so far this season, being five games over .500 ... we haven't been in this position the last two years. We're playing our best basketball of the season."

Added Coach Terry Stotts: "I like the direction we're going. But we still have a lot of games to go. The NBA season can be very tenuous."

Lillard, who led Portland with 28 points against the Clippers, has been on a roll since returning to the lineup after missing seven games with leg injuries. Lillard is averaging 27.4 points in his last 10 games, scoring at least 20 points every time out.

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