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Wendell Carter Jr. hopes to return to Bulls’ lineup Thursday

Carter participated in most of practice Tuesday at the Advocate Center and hinted that he could return to the lineup against the Hornets.

Wendell Carter Jr. expects to play in Thursday’s game against the Hornets.
Wendell Carter Jr. expects to play in Thursday’s game against the Hornets.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. watched Friday night as other first- and second-year NBA players ran up and down the United Center court during the Rising Stars game. He wanted to join them but couldn’t because of the high ankle sprain he suffered Jan. 6 in a loss to the Mavericks.

He left All-Star Weekend extra motivated.

“I want to be on that big stage in front of everybody,” he said Tuesday. “That’s something that I’m definitely looking forward to accomplishing in my career.”

But for now, the primary goal for Carter and several other Bulls is just to get healthy.

Carter participated in most of practice at the Advocate Center and hinted he could return to the lineup Thursday night against the Hornets.

In other good news, forward Otto Porter Jr., who has been out with a foot injury since November, was a full participant in practice, though his return timeline is still uncertain.

Coach Jim Boylen couldn’t provide an update for forward Lauri Markkanen (pelvis) or guard Kris Dunn (knee).

The Bulls set a preseason expectation that they would make the playoffs, but the various injuries have changed that, Carter said.

“I felt like before me and Lauri got hurt, we were on a steady pace to get in the bottom half of the playoffs, and now that we’ve been hurt, it’s kind of put that to the side,” Carter said. “Now it’s more so just getting the team healthy, just trying to get everybody right, and then we can focus on making it to the playoffs again.”

The Bulls entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak and are 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 19-36 record. They still have a chance at the postseason, albeit a small one — 1.7 percent, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index.

Despite the low odds, Carter is hopeful and determined to finish the season strong.

“We still have a chance to make it to the playoffs, but if not, all it’s gonna do is help us set the tone for next year,” he said. “These last [27] games we should take very, very seriously, and no matter what the fans, no matter what people outside this organization are saying, we still have a shot, so I feel like it’s very important to play hard.”

With core players still on the mend, the Bulls will use the next several weeks to evaluate the team — and perhaps Boylen. The Sun-Times reported Sunday that during All-Star weekend, team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson began searching for potential replacements for general manager Gar Forman, who’s expected to be moved to the scouting department. In light of that news, Boylen’s status doesn’t seem as solid as it was when the Bulls gave him a contract extension last May. But he said he doesn’t feel additional pressure coming out of the break.

“You always feel pressure to win games — I think that’s part of the league,” Boylen said. “I don’t think that changes with [players coming back]. I expect us to win when we’re short-handed or when we’re at full strength, so I don’t change my outlook on the games.”