The plan for Wendell Carter Jr. coming out of the win Monday against the Pacers was simple: Ease the third-year big man back into it.
Because of an unforgiving schedule in February, Bulls coach Billy Donovan didn’t see it any other way. Carter missed 11 games with a right quadriceps bruise before playing 21 minutes in his return against the Pacers, but was noticeably out of rhythm on the offensive end.
Defensively? Carter’s “just hit him first’’ mentality against All-Star Domantas Sabonis was just what the Bulls needed.
Carter, though, has an important role on the offensive end in Donovan’s system with a skill set that involves him being a key screener as well as a facilitator out of the pocket.
Carter needs some time to shake off the rust, and with games every other day, as well as two back-to-backs mixed in the next couple of weeks, he won’t be able to get much practice time in.
The schedule changed Tuesday as the NBA announced that Wednesday’s game in Charlotte was postponed because many of the Hornets players were in the health and safety protocol because of contact tracing. The Hornets won’t play their next two games.
Hours later, the league announced that the Bulls were back on for Wednesday night, hosting the Pistons at the United Center.
While the Bulls have now had three games postponed, this was the first game picked from the unannounced second-half schedule.
The Bulls were expected to get some much-needed practice time for players like Carter on Wednesday and Thursday, while veterans like Thad Young and Garrett Temple could get some rest.
What does it mean for the Bulls in the short term? Well, not what was first hoped when the team thought they would suddenly have a more open week.
“I knew I was going to get winded pretty early, but that’s a part of coming back, just getting to that game shape,’’ Carter said. “My body was hurting a little bit. I was kind of tired and [Donovan] understood that. So for [the] next game, it may go up one or two minutes. And then next game, one or two minutes. So it’s just based off how I feel and how fast I can get back in shape.’’
A few days of practice, scrimmaging and more conditioning could have helped Carter along in the process, but now Carter will likely only get a shootaround on Wednesday afternoon and then be back on a minutes watch against the Pistons, looking to get in that 23- or 24-minute range.
Then there’s Young and Temple, who could have used the downtime to rest.
Donovan has been trying to specifically cut back on Young’s minutes to keep him healthy for a late-season push, but the veteran forward has been so productive, especially with the Bulls short-handed in the frontcourt, that it has been hard to keep him out of the lineup.
The goal was to keep Young near that 24-minute mark. He has played 30 minutes or more three times in February, though, and was averaging 28.1 minutes for the month. As for Temple, he played 39 minutes in the win against the Pacers.
“It’s probably too much for [Young] and Garrett, but they’re competitors,’’ Donovan said. “They’re in that situation. They’re not going to want to come out of the game like that.’’