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With DeMar DeRozan in the protocols, undermanned Bulls beat Nuggets

DeRozan went through the morning shootaround but found out hours before the game that he was headed for the health and safety protocols. He’s the third Bull in the protocols.

Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu shoots over Nuggets forward Will Barton during the second half of Monday’s game.
Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu shoots over Nuggets forward Will Barton during the second half of Monday’s game.
Matt Marton/AP

Coach Billy Donovan was reminded again Monday that the new norm can be a cruel punch to the gut.

A few hours before the game against the Nuggets at the United Center, Donovan and his players found out that they would be without DeMar DeRozan, who went into the health and safety protocols, for at least one game, possibly more.

Was DeRozan positive for the coronavirus or did a false positive flag him?

Even Donovan couldn’t answer that.

“I know there’s probably a lot more questions about, is he positive, is he negative?’’ Donovan said. “I don’t even know yet. This is obviously coming from the league, and we’ll probably have more information going forward. This just transpired [Monday] afternoon, so I cannot really confirm and/or deny if it’s a false positive or a positive. I just don’t know right now. And obviously the medical staff works through the league on that, and they come up with the guidelines he’s gotta follow, and I think we’ll be able to have more news one way or another in the next day or so.’’

The Bulls have been at the forefront of getting vaccinated but have three players in the protocols. DeRozan — an MVP candidate — joins Javonte Green and Coby White.

Nikola Vucevic tested positive last month, and even TV analyst Stacey King was in the protocols.

“I think what we’re all going through, it’s just the way it is,’’ Donovan said. “No one has ever said, ‘Hey, if you get vaccinated, you’re not gonna get COVID.’ I think that’s pretty much played itself out for a lot of people.’’

On top of all the protocol drama, the Bulls still had a game to play, and they beat the similarly undermanned Nuggets 109-97.

You can call it a complete flexing of Bulls depth.

With DeRozan missing, Donovan turned to a starting five of Vucevic, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Jones Jr. and rookie Ayo Dosunmu.

It was the first time that group started, and it showed.

The Bulls quickly got a look at life without DeRozan, and it wasn’t filled with a lot of happiness.

By the time the horn sounded at the end of the first quarter, the Nuggets were up 27-18, and those weren’t even the ugliest numbers glaring at the Bulls.

They went 8-for-24 (33.3%) from the field, including 2-for-11 (18.2%) from three-point range, and didn’t get to the free-throw line.

Then Ball happened.

With LaVine looking for help offensively, Ball stepped up and scored nine points in the second quarter and had 14 for the half, including three three-pointers.

That cut the deficit to three at halftime and set the stage for the barrage in the second half. LaVine scored 12 in the third quarter to give the Bulls a six-point lead, then they blew the doors off the Nuggets (11-12) in the fourth, dropping 32 points on them to close the game out.

Not only did Jones (12 points) and Dosunmu (11 points) play well as starters, but Troy Brown Jr., Tony Bradley and seldom-used Matt Thomas each had their moments and key minutes.

“[Dosunmu is] a great guy to coach,’’ Donovan said. “It’s gotta be an incredible experience for him growing up in Chicago.’’

It was.

“Me getting this opportunity, I just wanted to seize it,’’ Dosunmu said. “I pride myself on being a two-way player, and [I was] able to show it here against a great team.’’