‘Dame Time’ dooms Bulls despite Lauri Markkanen reaching new heights
On nights Markkanen can score a season-high 31 like he did on Saturday, the Bulls will usually find themselves in a good spot. Portland’s Damian Lillard, however, had different ideas. Now it’s about Markkanen keeping that standard up.
The Bulls would love to tell you how they truly feel about Lauri Markkanen.
It’s hard to do, however, considering the organization and the fourth-year big man couldn’t even get in the same ballpark for a contract extension a few months ago.
The Bulls would enjoy nothing more than to tell you where Markkanen’s on-the-court talent ceiling is set.
But that’s almost impossible to do because of injuries and inconsistency. It’s all a bit confusing.
Then again, what about Markkanen, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, isn’t?
Even his announced height comes with some puzzlement.
Coming out of Arizona, Markkanen was listed as a 7-footer, but that seemed a bit suspect whenever he would stand next to former teammate Robin Lopez, an actual 7-footer. Fine, despite the NBA claiming to be more transparent with heights, let’s round up and give it to him.
But during the home introductions this season, including the 123-122 heartbreaking loss to the Trail Blazers, Markkanen has been announced as 7-1.
That led to an explanation and, fittingly, more head-scratching.
“I was 7 feet without shoes, so I guess it’s 7-1 when I get measured with shoes on,’’ Markkanen said. “Uh, maybe it’s my hair. I don’t know.
“To be honest, I didn’t even hear it. My buddy texted me, so that’s how I knew. I didn’t pay attention to that, but I’m glad I grew, apparently.’’
When asked if he even believed he was 7-1, Markkanen said, “It depends on the day, what time we’re measuring.’’
Actually, that’s a good way to sum up Markkanen’s career: It depends on the day.
Until Damian Lillard hit a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer, it appeared that Saturday was the wrong day for the visiting team.
The Blazers dominated the Bulls through the first half and into the early minutes of the third quarter until Markkanen woke up.
He was being overpowered defensively at center in the third but was a mismatch at the other end, scoring 12 of his 31 points and helping to slice a 19-point deficit to seven going into the fourth quarter.
The Bulls seemed to complete the comeback when Markkanen made a dunk with two minutes left to go up by two, but it only set the stage for a wild finish.
Coby White’s free throws put the Bulls up by five with 11.5 seconds left, but Lillard hit a ridiculous 37-footer with 8.9 seconds left to cut the lead to two.
Zach LaVine, who was spectacular in the fourth quarter, again had an untimely turnover, getting tied up for a jump ball with just seconds left.
“It was as quick a jump-ball call as I’ve ever seen,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “We got it into Zach. I felt good about it. . . . I did think he had space. If I had to do it over again, when the shot was made, it would have been better to call a timeout.’’
Gary Trent Jr.’s tip found its way to Lillard, who hit the dagger over an outstretched Markkanen.
“Sometimes the losing is painful with some of the ways we lost,’’ Donovan said. “Give [Lillard] credit; they were great shots. I have great respect and admiration for him, but, for me, it was less about him and more about us.’’
As for Markkanen, his season-high point total just wasn’t enough.
“[Lillard’s] one of the few guys in the league who can make that shot consistently,’’ Markkanen said. “That’s a tough loss. Keep grinding . . . we’re gonna turn this around.’’