With the Bulls catching a break against suddenly undermanned Philadelphia on Thursday, that’s great for the short term. The long term, however, is about keeping Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. healthy, as well as continuing to make and take phone calls on the trade front.
A week ago, the script for the start of the second half of the season read more like a horror movie.
Lurking in the paint of the United Center would be a 7-foot monster who singled handedly slashed up the smallish Bulls less than three weeks ago, as Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid put up 50 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a 76ers win.
And he was expected to bring a plus-one in the Thursday rematch, with fellow All-Star Ben Simmons in the mix. The Bulls didn’t have to even game-plan for Simmons back in February, thanks to the guard dealing with a bad calf.
Now it seems they won’t have to game-plan for either, with both Simmons and Embiid sidelined because of contract tracing in the league’s coronavirus protocol.
Just the latest reminder of why scripts and projections in this unpredictable season are only as good as the nearest garbage can they can be tossed into.
“Philly’s gonna have some guys out,’’ coach Billy Donovan said after the Wednesday night practice. “I think it’s really happening to everybody across the league, to your point. And I don’t know if everybody the whole year can honestly say that their team has been completely whole, you know, with the number of games, rest, injuries, COVID, contact tracing, guys having to sit because somebody got COVID and they were around each other. So, there’s been guys that have really been healthy and been able to play that have been ruled out because they’re involved in contact tracing.
“Every night it may look a little bit different. But also I think your team could look a lot different each night too.’’
Which the Bulls finally will.
Donovan will be bringing more ammunition to this fight with undermanned Philadelphia, as the coach indicated that both Lauri Markkanen (right shoulder sprain) and Otto Porter Jr. (back) each went through full contact practices and should be ready to go.
Markkanen, who was averaging 19.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game before missing the last 13 contests, was expected to return to the starting lineup, while Porter, who has missed the last 15 games, was returning to his role off the bench.
“The team is playing really well,’’ Markkanen said. “I’m excited to be back with them. Hopefully I can help them, help us be even better. We obviously put the work in and now obviously we don’t have that many practices. So we don’t have that time on the floor, but we just got to talk about things and be watching film. I’m sure it’s going to be fine.’’
The Bulls needs it to be. A healthy Markkanen and Porter should make them better, but also opens up options.
With the Mar. 25 trade deadline approaching, it would be easier to talk deal with every asset healthy and playing. While Donovan said there was no formal organizational meeting over the break, there have been frequent gatherings with the front office and coaches, discussing the trade landscape as well as the roster that’s currently in the Advocate Center.
“I think [Arturas Karnisovas is] always going to look to field phone calls and take phone calls from different teams, make phone calls,’’ Donovan said of his vice president of basketball operations. “That’s his job. In talking to him we feel good about the growth of the team and the team improving and getting better. Like I said before the break started, we are not excited or happy with being under .500, but I think the guys have done a good job and we are trying to get better. Those will be conversations I think between Arturas and I that will continue on for the next couple of weeks leading up to the deadline.’’