Bulls believe forward Lauri Markkanen understands importance of return

The third-year big man returned against the Timberwolves and had some moments, but it’s about the last 20 games and allowing the team to evaluate him.

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Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen shoots against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen shoots against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

MINNEAPOLIS — It was only a dip of the toe for forward Lauri Markkanen on Wednesday, but at least he was willing to get wet again.

Markkanen missed 15 games because of an injured right pelvis, and it was tough to judge him against the Timberwolves because of the minutes restriction he’s working under, but Bulls coach Jim Boylen said he understands the magnitude of the last 20 regular-season games.

“I think he does,’’ Boylen said. “We met [Wednesday] morning and talked about it, and I think he gets it.

“I’m not going to share the whole conversation, but we’ve talked, and he knows what we expect. He’s anxious to do those things. Play hard, compete, defend and rebound. That’s kind of my mantra with everybody. And let your offense come around. He knows what we want, and he’s a willing guy. I just hope he can stay healthy and play his minutes with energy.’’

Boylen’s not alone in that boat.

The entire organization would like to see Markkanen finish the season with a flourish, especially after having to endure his inconsistent play before the injury.

Markkanen and Zach LaVine were considered the key pieces of the entire rebuild, so the 7-footer’s struggles were not a good sign. To make matters worse, Markkanen privately expressed his displeasure with his role in the offense.

Far too often he has been “The Big Decoy’’ rather than “The Finnisher,’’ as he was dubbed his rookie season.

Of course, the always-stoic Markkanen wasn’t going to make a big deal of what the rest of the season means to him.

“Just get in the system again and compete and be aggressive,’’ Markkanen said. “Hopefully, I can help the team get some wins down the stretch.’’

One good sign from Markkanen, who had 13 points, came two minutes into the second quarter, when he actually went into the post, was given the ball against Timberwolves forward Jake Layman, backed him down and made a strong move off the glass for his first basket since Jan. 24.

He had eight points in the quarter.

“Physically, I feel better now,’’ said Markkanen, who also dealt with an early-season ankle injury. “At the same time, I got some time to actually put my ankle together, too. Physically, I think it was good for me. And I’m ready to go.’’

Playing it safe

The NBA sent out videos for teams to show the players concerning the coronavirus and preventive measures they can take, and the Bulls had their turn watching it before the game.

“We met with our team; we showed them a video that the league sent us,’’ Boylen said. “I think it’s important. The video was about the basics, you know, wash your hands and try maybe not to have an open-hand touch, more knuckle-bumps, all that stuff. Hey, it’s an issue that’s out there, and the league is on top of it.’’

Boylen said his players are well aware of what has been going on with the virus but don’t seem to be dwelling on it.

“I haven’t heard much concern from the players, but I know they know it’s out there,’’ Boylen said. “I think what you think about in these situations is your parents — my mom is 83 — and my kids are 12 and 14. I think you think about those things more than you think about yourself.’’

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