Rookie Lauri Markkanen helps Bulls earn first win in ‘Tank-fest’

SHARE Rookie Lauri Markkanen helps Bulls earn first win in ‘Tank-fest’
SHARE Rookie Lauri Markkanen helps Bulls earn first win in ‘Tank-fest’

It’s not often that the fourth game of an 82-game NBA regular season is labeled “a must-win.’’

Then again, Bulls second-year swingman Denzel Valentine isn’t exactly used to playing on a team that starts off 0-3 with a front office all in on tanking if it means a top lottery pick.

“I mean, this is a must-win situation for us regardless of who we’re playing,’’ Valentine said of the Hawks. “We were right there with the best team in the East [the Cavaliers] on Tuesday. That hurt. It was on the road. We’ve played probably two of the toughest teams our first two games, so regardless of who we’re playing, it’s a huge game for us. We’ve gotta get this win.’’

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“Tank-fest’’ came and went at the United Center on Thursday night, with the 1-4 Hawks in town to try to stake their claim as the early-season lottery-ball leader. And thanks to a clutch three-pointer by rookie Lauri Markkanen that put the Bulls up by four with 48.5 seconds left, the Bulls granted Atlanta its wish with a 91-86 victory.

Or did they actually lose considering the opponent?

Either way, it improved the Bulls to 1-3 on the season and kept Markkanen Fever alive and well.

The seventh overall pick overcame a poor-shooting first half to finish with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

“To step up and knock that shot down in the end is a great sign for a young player,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “When you can play through a 20-year-old kid like that, it’s pretty impressive for him to have that type of game when his shot wasn’t falling.

“He’s a really good, versatile basketball player. He’s got the rep of being a great shooter, which he is, but the underrated part of his game is to go by guys.’’

Still on the mend

Point guard Kris Dunn’s regular-season debut was back on hold.

Hoiberg said Dunn was still feeling soreness in his left index finger, which he dislocated during the preseason.

The hope was to have Dunn up and running by this week, but the latest setback might keep him out of the game Saturday against the Thunder.

“You don’t want to be out there thinking, and right now, that’s what he’s doing,’’ Hoiberg said. “He swiped at a ball the other day and every time you do that, you hit it with the bad finger. He’s still sore. Every time he tries to push it and gets hit, he has a lot of pain associated with that, which is going to happen.

“Once he gets back, he’s going to have to understand there’s probably going to be some pain involved. The important thing is the tendon is intact. There are no broken bones in there. It’s just the mental hurdle when he gets back.’’

Finding his place

Valentine admittedly was searching for an identity last season as a rookie but showed against the Hawks that he might have found one.

Starting for Paul Zipser (bruised right knee), Valentine didn’t shoot well (3-for-14) but had four assists and eight rebounds.

“I definitely touch the ball more, feel more involved this year,’’ Valentine said. “Last year, you go in and you don’t know if you’re gonna be involved. You’re just standing there. This year, the ball is moving, you’re getting opportunities.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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