Young Bulls players have a lot to prove, and hopes of a playoff push

The Bulls are still undermanned and a long shot for the postseason, but don’t tell that to the likes of a Daniel Gafford, who has playoff visions still dancing around in his head.

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The Bulls’ injury problems aren’t going away.

If anything, the training room is simply running out of space.

The latest casualty was center Luke Kornet, who was on crutches and in a walking boot Saturday after he sprained his left ankle in practice Friday.

That meant coach Jim Boylen was only able to dress nine against the Suns and started rookie Daniel Gafford at center. He was joined in the starting lineup by Ryan Arcidiacono, Zach LaVine, Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young.

Boylen wasn’t looking for sympathy, and as a matter of fact, he wanted his young players to still focus on what the goal of the season was when it tipped off back in October.

“Right there with the mentality we’re trying to keep, we’re still chasing that playoff vision,’’ said Gafford, who scored seven points in the Bulls’ 112-104 loss. “That’s still the focus. We’re coming in and working our tails off. Our main focus is just winning games. We still have a long stretch we feel we can make a push for it. You want to say we gave this our all.’’

Meanwhile, Boylen has been making sure his young players understand that they need to give it their all because everything is being evaluated over the final 25 games.

“I don’t give you guys everything we talk about, but one thing we did talk about is we’ve got to establish our style of play every night, no matter who is playing,’’ Boylen said. “And we want to be a good defensive team. You can be a part of that. Control the things we can control, which is your effort, your toughness, your competitiveness. That’s what we talk about.’’

A message that has not been getting lost on Gafford, who wants to use this opportunity to show that he’s not just a second-round draft pick who can contribute some minutes off the bench. The big man has bigger aspirations than that.

“Just for them to see that further in my career I can develop way more than what I have,’’ Gafford said when asked what he’s looking to showcase in the final six weeks. “I can develop to where I can be a good player in this league, a great player in this league. With the defense, offense, just mainly energy-wise. Kind of guy that brings energy, kind of guy that protects home.’’

Walking wounded

Besides Kornet, the Bulls are still waiting for Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot), Denzel Valentine (hamstring) and Lauri Markkanen (right pelvis) to rejoin the lineup.

Porter and Carter seem to be the closest, considering they started to practice the last few days, with Valentine and then Markkanen rounding out the expected return timetables.

Kris Dunn (right knee injury) is likely going to miss the remainder of the season, even though the Bulls won’t acknowledge that.

After further review . . .

Boylen said he likes the challenge rule that was added this season but would like to see it tweaked in the offseason. Specifically, a successful challenge should allow the coach to keep the challenge.

“I think you should get the benefit of it,’’ Boylen said. “If [the call] was wrong, why should you lose your challenge? But I don’t make those rules. We’ll see what they do with it. They’re always worried about the speed of play and things moving on.’’

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