And rightfully so. The Bronx native, rooting for his hometown team, is interested in New York reclaiming its throne as the Mecca of basketball.
Zach LaVine had other plans on Thursday when the Bulls visited the Knicks in an Eastern Conference slugfest at Madison Square Garden.
Before the game, LaVine confronted Smith and promised that he wouldn’t let the Knicks win with Smith in the crowd that night.
What followed was only disappointment for Smith immediately after their pre-game conversation with LaVine, which he revealed on the following morning on ESPN’s First Take.
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‘I Know You Want Us to Lose Tonight, But It Ain’t Happening’
On Friday, December 3, Smith appeared on ESPN’s First Take and shared the story of the conversation he had with LaVine before the game.
“Zach LaVine did come up to me before the game: ‘I know you want us to lose tonight, but it ain’t happening,'” Smith said.
LaVine didn’t waste time on that promise, helping the Bulls gain an 18-point lead at halftime by pouring in a team-high 18 points in the first half. He finished with 27 points as the Bulls coasted to a 119-115 win.
The Bulls (15-8) sit at second in the Eastern Conference standings, while the Knicks, whom Smith said had a brighter future than the Bulls, are 10th in the conference with an 11-11 record.
Smith ate his words, admitting the Bulls have shown enough this season to earn his respect.
“He went out on the court and showed me why. Zach LaVine is a star, and Billy Donovan is a hell of a coach. They got a damn good team in Chicago,” Smith said.
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Bulls Living Up to ‘Eastern Conference Powerhouse’ Projection
Despite Smith’s early-season skepticism surrounding the Bulls, his co-host, Max Kellerman, was high on the Bulls, penning them as an “Eastern Conference powerhouse” before the season started.
The Bulls answered questions about handling three ball-dominant players in their backcourt in Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and LaVine. However, the Bulls have found their form with DeRozan (26.3 points per game) and LaVine (25.4 points per game) averaging 25-plus points per game and Ball averaging 12.3 points and 4.9 assists per game.
“Lonzo Ball has overall value. He can play both sides of the floor. He’s the best point guard on either team,” Kellerman said in an August segment of First Take. “DeMar DeRozan is the best two-guard on any team. DeMar DeRozan is a mid-range killer. Zach LaVine, bombs from the outside. All three guys can get to the basket.
The Bulls have no issue sharing the ball, averaging an NBA-best 21.2 assists per game. Nikola Vucevic has benefited the talent on the perimeter, capitalizing on the inside by averaging 15.3 points per game.
“At four out of five positions, you’d rather have the Bulls guys,” Kellerman added.
The Bulls are currently 2-1 against the Knicks this season. The Knicks have one more chance to level the series with the Bulls this season when the two teams meet on March 28 with playoff implications likely on the line.