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As goes Lauri Markkanen, so go the Bulls — and both are struggling

Markkanen’s season-long slump continued in the loss to the Bucks, and he said afterward that the only way he knows to get out of it is to keep working.

The Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen stumbles as he drives to the basket around the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday night.
The Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen stumbles as he drives to the basket around the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday night.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

It’s easy to explain the Bulls’ 4-10 record when it comes down to it.

That’s where they’re at in the standings after their 115-101 loss Monday to the Bucks — and with good reason.

The Bulls don’t have a player such as the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Lakers’ LeBron James or the Rockets’ James Harden.

And 14 games into the regular season, they really haven’t even had big man Lauri Markkanen, who continued to be more of an enigma than a pillar of the Bulls’ rebuild after scoring only nine points on 2-for-12 shooting against the Bucks.

Is he the lone culprit in a season gone wrong quickly? Absolutely not. But he’s definitely the glaring one, and there are few clear explanations for why that is.

‘‘It’s frustrating,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘I’ve never had this kind of stretch of not [only] not hitting threes but missing layups. It’s very frustrating, but I’ve got to keep my head up, knowing that I worked too hard for this not to turn around.’’

Coach Jim Boylen sure hopes so.

‘‘I think he’s a young, developing player,’’ Boylen said when he was asked whether he is worried about Markkanen’s struggles. ‘‘I think he’s had some moments where he can do better. I think he understands that. I think consistency for our group — not only him — has been a problem.

‘‘The thing I look at is, does he continue to work and communicate and take ownership? I feel no delusional tendencies from him. He’s not making excuses, and as long as I see a guy working and caring, I believe he will play better and get back to who we think he can be. He has to play better, and we have to play better.’’

One question raised about Markkanen has been about the change in his body from last season to this season. He made it a point to bulk up during the offseason, so he could be more physical and play some minutes in the post when the matchup calls for it.

While he has maintained his game hasn’t changed with the added muscle, he does look a bit stiff, especially attacking the rim.

Boylen, however, wasn’t buying into that.

‘‘I don’t feel that way,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘The way he spoke to me about it was his summer conditioning and weightlifting were confidence-builders for him. They were places where he thought he had helped himself. And if he believes that, it’s a good thing.’’

It wasn’t Monday.

The second unit got the Bulls back into the game in the fourth quarter, and Boylen went back to most of his starters trailing by three with 5:04 left.

Markkanen had seven points at the time. By the time Antetokounmpo backed him down, spun him around, slammed the ball in and drew a foul, the Bulls were down 112-101 with 1:31 left. The two points Markkanen scored in the fourth quarter came on free throws.

Zach LaVine, the other pillar of the rebuild, was hardly better. He scored 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

Meanwhile, lost in all the bad news was a strong effort by rookie big man Daniel Gafford, who scored 21 points in 20 minutes in his first meaningful action of the season.

It was a nice effort, but the Bulls aren’t built around Gafford.

‘‘He’s trying,’’ Boylen said of Markkanen. ‘‘He cares.’’