Zach LaVine’s quadriceps injury that forced him to miss a game for the first time this season seemed to spoil Otto Porter Jr.’s long-awaited return — just the Bulls’ luck.
But not on this night.
Porter’s spirited performance after missing 51 games with a broken foot — 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting in 17 minutes — sparked the Bulls to a 109-107 victory over the Mavericks on Monday night before 18,407 at the United Center.
“Otto does what Otto does — he makes big shots,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He’s got that skill level that we’ve missed. He has a feel, a calmness, so I’m happy for him.”
Porter was playing for the first time since Nov. 6.
“It felt good out there,” Porter said. “Back in the groove a little bit. My emotion and my energy were very high. I was just very excited.”
Denzel Valentine — also making the most of a minutes restriction in his second game back from a hamstring injury — scored 17 points in 21 minutes as the Bulls (21-40) won for only the second time in 12 games. Coby White added 19 points to lead six players in double figures.
The Mavericks, playing the second road game of a back-to-back, were without forward Kristaps Porzingis and two other rotation regulars.
“Otto was huge,” Valentine said. “It gives me confidence, too, to have a scorer to lean on and somebody to pass it to. It also gets me going. I’m glad he’s back.”
The Bulls will take it, even after surviving a frantic finish in which they led 107-99 with possession and 21 seconds left but ended up sweating out a 47-foot potential game-winning three-pointer by All-Star Luka Doncic (23 points but only two in the fourth quarter) that hit the front of the rim at the buzzer.
With the Bulls leading 107-99 and having possession at midcourt after a timeout, Tomas Satoransky, who had 11 points, threw an errant pass toward his own basket. Maxi Kleber dunked it to make it 107-101 with 18.2 seconds left. Adam Mokoka threw away the ensuing inbounds pass, and Dorian Finney-Smith made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 107-104 with 15.3 seconds left. It was a nail-biter after that.
“I didn’t know what was going down,” Valentine said. “As long as you win the game, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter how or what happened. We just have to learn from it and keep going.”
Despite the victory, the absence of LaVine was a disappointment for a team snakebitten by injuries that too often seem to last longer than expected. With Porter, center Wendell Carter Jr. and Valentine back and Lauri Markkanen taking a step toward his imminent return — perhaps Wednesday against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis — the Bulls finally are getting closer to their stated goal of seeing what they’ve got with the core they built.
And then . . .
“Zach is out,” Boylen said. “Grade 1 left quad strain. We’ll re-evaluate him. Basically, [he’s] day-to-day. We’ll just see how it goes. But he’s definitely out for tonight.”
The Bulls’ leading scorer had played in all 60 games and had a stated goal of playing in every game after missing 58 games in 2017-18 and 19 last season.
“I know he’s disappointed,” Boylen said. “He had a goal to play all 82. It’s hard on him. I know he’ll come back when he can. We won’t take any chances. . . . He’ll have a say in [when he returns]. But from our end, we will protect him to the hilt.”