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As the losses pile up for the Bulls, the focus is shifting toward a huge summer

DETROIT — The sample size is way too small.

Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn have started only 12 games together.

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You can blame injuries, rehab, minutes restrictions, but the three most important pieces in the Bulls’ rebuild are still fairly unfamiliar with each other near the end of March.

So while coach Fred Hoiberg can try to find positives in basically meaningless games during this stretch, such as the 117-95 loss Saturday to the Pistons, even he knows that the Bulls’ real business starts this offseason.

“It’s going to be important this offseason to build some chemistry,’’ Hoiberg said. “We were playing so well when Kris went down with the concussion [in January]. Then Zach came back and was there when Kris wasn’t at full strength. We had different guys in and out of the lineup. There’s a small sample size with Lauri, Kris and Zach. We just haven’t seen a lot of those guys together.

“It’s an important summer. We need to try to build some momentum and chemistry heading into next year’s training camp. I know players in the offseason have to get their time. A lot of that will happen right after the season. But we’re going to ask these guys to be back and build that chemistry so we can get a leg up heading into training camp next year.’’

Dunn won’t have to be asked.

He plans to spend most of his offseason in Chicago, working out at the Advocate Center.

Hoiberg and the front office will be pushing to make sure that Dunn isn’t alone.

“I wish we could’ve had Zach during that stretch [in December and January],’’ Hoiberg said. “I think we could’ve continued on and built the rest of our season with the confidence the guys were playing with. We’re going to have to get as much of that accomplished in the offseason. We had a great September, even back into August after the trade was made. Those guys were willing to work and do everything necessary to get ready for training camp. It was important, as were putting things in to get those guys buying into being there and start building the culture.

“It’s going to be every bit as important, probably more important, this next offseason when Zach is fully healthy. His sole focus was on rehab last year. He just didn’t get a lot of reps with our guys until after the All-Star break. It’s going to be a huge stretch for our team in the offseason, as it is for every young group.’’

Until then, however, there are only 22-point losses to Detroit to focus on.

Well, maybe not for Denzel Valentine, who was thrilled to hear after scoring 18 in the Bulls’ loss that Loyola had advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Valentine’s older brother, Drew, is an assistant coach for the Ramblers.

“Despite the loss, it just puts a smile on my face,’’ Valentine said.

“[Drew] works so hard recruiting. He’s always on the move, in the gym, taking his time with his players. Me and Cam [Payne] worked out there over the summer, built some relationships with some players, coaches, spent some time there, so I feel like we’re a part of it a little bit. This is crazy — that a mid-major would make it to the Final Four.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com