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Bulls getting healthy for second half, but will they get a trade done?

The Bulls seemingly will catch a break Thursday with a game against the suddenly undermanned 76ers, and that’s great for the short term. The long term, however, is about keeping Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. healthy and continuing to make and take phone calls on the trade front.

While the 76ers will be short-handed Thursday night, Bulls coach Billy Donovan indicated that Lauri Markkanen (right shoulder sprain) should be ready to play.
While the 76ers will be short-handed Thursday night, Bulls coach Billy Donovan indicated that Lauri Markkanen (right shoulder sprain) should be ready to play.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

A week ago, the script for the start of the second half of the season read more like a horror movie.

Lurking in the paint of the United Center would be a 7-foot monster, Joel Embiid, who single-handedly carved up the Bulls less than three weeks ago for 50 points and 17 rebounds in a 76ers win.

And he was expected to bring a plus-one in the rematch Thursday, with fellow All-Star Ben Simmons in the mix. The Bulls didn’t have to even game-plan for Simmons back in February, thanks to the guard’s calf injury.

Now it seems they won’t have to game-plan for either, with both Simmons and Embiid sidelined because of contact tracing in the league’s coronavirus protocol.

It’s just the latest reminder of why scripts and projections in this unpredictable season are only as good as the nearest garbage can in which they can be tossed.

“Philly’s gonna have some guys out,’’ coach Billy Donovan said after the Wednesday night practice. “I think it’s really happening to everybody across the league. . . . And I don’t know if everybody the whole year can honestly say that their team has been completely whole, you know, with the number of games, rest, injuries, COVID, contact tracing, guys having to sit because somebody got COVID and they were around each other. So there’s been guys that have really been healthy and been able to play that have been ruled out because they’re involved in contact tracing.

“Every night it may look a little bit different. But also I think your team could look a lot different each night too.’’

The Bulls will look different, too.

While the 76ers will be short-handed, Donovan indicated that both Lauri Markkanen (right shoulder sprain) and Otto Porter Jr. (back) each went through full-contact practices and should be ready to play.

Markkanen, who was averaging 19.1 points and 6.1 rebounds before missing the last 13 contests, was expected to return to the starting lineup. Porter, who has missed the last 15 games, was returning to his role off the bench.

“The team is playing really well,’’ Markkanen said. “I’m excited to be back with them. Hopefully I can help them, help us be even better. We obviously put the work in and now obviously we don’t have that many practices. So we don’t have that time on the floor, but we just got to talk about things and be watching film. I’m sure it’s going to be fine.’’

The Bulls need it to be. A healthy Markkanen and Porter should make them better, but also will open up options.

With the March 25 trade deadline approaching, it would be easier to talk about deals with every asset healthy and playing. While Donovan said there was no formal organizational meeting over the break, there have been frequent gatherings with the front office and coaches, discussing the trade landscape as well as the roster that’s currently in the Advocate Center.

“I think [vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is] always going to look to field phone calls and take phone calls from different teams, make phone calls,’’ Donovan said.

“That’s his job. In talking to him we feel good about the growth of the team and the team improving and getting better. Like I said before the break started, we are not excited or happy with being under .500, but I think the guys have done a good job and we are trying to get better. Those will be conversations I think between Arturas and I that will continue on for the next couple of weeks leading up to the deadline.’’