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Bulls guard Alex Caruso returns, and so does his versatility

Caruso missed the blowout loss to the Pacers on Monday, dealing with a left wrist injury. He was back against the Rockets, and back in a more familiar role.

HOUSTON — Alex Caruso’s value was in full view the last few weeks.

The value of not having him was on display Monday.

Before Nikola Vucevic went down, missing seven games in the health and safety protocol when he tested positive for the coronavirus, Caruso’s defense was the sole focus when discussing the Bulls.

Without the big man, however, the supersub’s versatility was really put to the test, and he passed with flying colors.

“He can kind of do a little bit of everything,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “That’s the thing that’s been great. When Vucevic went down, we played [Caruso] at the power forward spot, played him as a backup point, we’ve put him on the team’s best offensive player. We’ve had him guard guys in the post, play pick-and-roll, and he’s one of those guys that doesn’t necessarily need to score to impact the game.’’

So when Caruso was unable to go Monday because of a bruised left wrist, all the Pacers did was manhandle the Bulls 109-77 in one of the more lopsided games of the season.

Coincidence?

Maybe. The Bulls were due for one of those letdown games after a long road trip, then a physical showdown with New York on Sunday.

But they also looked much softer on defense without Caruso, and the ease with which the Pacers pulled away early seemed to show that.

“I appreciate his competitiveness and the way he plays the game,’’ Donovan said.

The good news was Caruso was back against the Rockets. With Vucevic back, as well, that meant Caruso was in his familiar role off the bench and Javonte Green was back in the starting lineup.

Donovan initially moved Caruso into the starting lineup during the West Coast trip to help with spacing.

Fourth-and-go

As displayed in the win against the Knicks, as well as on the recent West Coast trip, the Bulls have proved to be one of the more efficient fourth-quarter teams this season.

A far cry from the frequent meltdowns that seemingly happened in the last four years, even with different rosters.

Veteran DeMar DeRozan said the explanation for the turnaround was an easy one.

“Just a complete understanding,’’ DeRozan said. “Something that started in training camp. When you’re with a group of guys where everyone understands their role to the best of their abilities, we’re able to come together in the fourth quarter, and we’re pretty damn good at that.

“High-IQ guys, high-character guys first and foremost.’’

It ain’t bragging . . .

The dunk by Derrick Jones Jr. last week in Denver was still floating around as a viral video, but the former dunk champion had a quick take on all the hype surrounding it.

“In-game [dunks], I’m not even going to lie, that’s not even top 10,’’ Jones said about the slam. “I’ve got so many dunks. I dunked on so many people in this league. That’s not even top 10 for me right now.’’

It was in the third quarter against the Nuggets. Jones was playing pick-and-roll with Zach LaVine, slipped the screen, got the pass from LaVine, took only a few steps to gather and went airborne for the slam.

“That was ridiculous,’’ LaVine said of the dunk. “He jumped from, like, right outside the dotted line with no gather, with no dribble. So it was — you’re locked in on the game, but it just takes you back when you really see that.’’