Asked about the importance of the Bulls’ “big three” — Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine — growing together over the remaining 43 games of the regular season, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson wasn’t sugarcoating anything Friday.
“Very important. It’s really important,” Paxson said. “We need to see growth. We need to see how they play. We’re a month into [coach] Jim [Boylen’s] tenure now, and I think they understand what’s expected. So we’re going to go out on the road here [next week]. That’s a good time for a young team to get together. They’re going to be hard games. We just need to see development. That’s going to be a big key.”
There were some solid steps Friday night in a 119-116 overtime loss to the Pacers at the United Center: back-to-back clutch three-pointers by LaVine to send it to overtime, Markkanen’s acrobatic baskets in the lane during the extra period and Dunn’s ridiculous one-handed dunk over Pacers big man Myles Turner with 1:12 left.
In the end, however, the trio’s coming-out party was broken up by Victor Oladipo, who banked in a 28-footer with 1.2 seconds left as the Pacers improved to 26-12. LaVine put up a prayer shot that would have tied the game at the horn, but it went to replay and was waved off.
“Everybody had it going,” Dunn said of the Bulls’ overall performance. “There have been multiple games where [the core three] kind of had it, but this was one of those games where all three played at a high level. It’s just tough that we couldn’t come up with the win.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort. Dunn finished with 16 points and 17 assists, Markkanen had 27 points and LaVine led the Bulls with 31 points.
“That’s how we have to compete every night,” Boylen said. “They made one more play than we did.”
Opening up the offense — as Boylen had promised to do — helped considerably. The Bulls attempted 28 three-point shots, the most since Boylen took over from Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3.
“A lot of good things,’’ Boylen said. “I’m thankful they played well together, I’m thankful we had great moments, but I just want us to stay greedy and keep trying to play for each other.
“Tonight showed some signs of our work paying off.”
Injured big man Bobby Portis (right ankle) continued his road back Friday after coming out of Thursday’s full-contact practice with no setbacks. Portis, a key reserve, worked out during the shootaround and was scheduled to go through another full-contact practice Saturday.
The hope was to have Portis available possibly Sunday against the Nets, but definitely for the five-city West Coast trip beginning Wednesday in Portland.
“It does look good [for Sunday],” Boylen said. “I’m not going to bank on it, but . . .”
Portis has only played in nine games this season because of knee and ankle injuries.
New-look leadership committee?
Veteran Robin Lopez said a meeting was still pending, but his nomination was for Dunn to fill the vacancy left in the players’ leadership committee when forward Justin Holiday was traded to the Grizzlies on Thursday.
The original leadership committee — established last month — was LaVine, Markkanen, Lopez, Portis and Holiday.