It’s hard to see “Bulls” across the chest when it’s covered by kinesiology tape.
That’s where Jim Boylen’s group is these days, limping down the stretch and looking for enough healthy bodies for the last eight games of the season.
Rookies Wendell Carter Jr. (left thumb) and Chandler Hutchison (right foot) already were ruled out for the rest of the season by vice president of basketball operations John Paxson on Saturday. Zach LaVine (right knee) and Otto Porter Jr. (shoulder) were ruled out for the game Tuesday in Toronto. Kris Dunn (back) missed practice Monday and was considered doubtful.
Boylen still was holding out hope for LaVine and Dunn to return at some point, but Porter might be taking a seat next to the two rookies for the rest of the season.
“[Porter is] disappointed, we’re disappointed,” Boylen said. “I saw his eyes when he missed that Washington game [Wednesday]. It broke his heart. So we’ve got a guy who cares, he’s happy to be a Bull, which I love and we love.”
That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t help the immediate cause with the Bulls down four starters and 62.8 points per game to make up.
“You just tell the truth,” Boylen, who likes the catchphrase “Bulls across the chest,” said of the attitude he’s taking with his undermanned team. “This is our job. This is what we need to do. With every injury, there’s an opportunity for someone to step into that role. We’ve had guys do that pretty well this year. We have to respond from a tough performance [against the Jazz] and have that road-dog/together mentality.”
Not that the cupboard is completely bare.
A certain 7-footer from Finland will try to make sure of that.
“Next man up is the focus,” forward Lauri Markkanen said after practice. “We’re trying to compete and win a couple games here down the stretch. It’s an opportunity for other guys who don’t get to play as much.”
And a big opportunity for Markkanen to shoulder the load as the only starter still standing.
It has been an interesting season for Markkanen, and one that the Bulls can feel good about. After adding 16 pounds of muscle last summer, Markkanen injured his right elbow early in training camp. It proved to be an organizational game-changer.
He didn’t play until Dec. 1, and then-coach Fred Hoiberg was fired just one game after Markkanen took the floor. By February, Markkanen was close to fully healed and putting up elite numbers for the month, averaging 26 points and 12.2 rebounds per game.
Markkanen has had his share of ups and downs in March. Now it’s about finishing the final stretch on an uptick.
“He went through a little dip, but it wasn’t because he wasn’t trying,” Boylen said. “It was part of his growth. When you start kicking ass in this league, people adjust to you. He was doing that. That’s a learning moment for this year. He’s a worker. He cares. He’ll take what he has learned from this year and add to his game. He has worked on getting to his right hand, which I think is important. He has worked on playing facing the basket from the ‘[Karl] Malone’ spot, which I think is important for his development. We moved him around more this year. He wasn’t just a catch-and-shoot guy. He handled the ball in transition, made plays for teammates, ran pick-and-roll. There’s a lot we can build on, but also a lot he established in his game.”
So is it showcase time for Markkanen with all his teammates out?
“Not really,” Markkanen said. “I’m doing the same things, trying to play the right way.”