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Home really hasn’t been that sweet, but Bulls welcome fans back

For the first time since the coronavirus shutdown in March 2020, fans will be back in the United Center for a Bulls game Friday. Though their home record has been poor, the players will be happy to have a crowd.

Workers prepare the Bulls’ court at the United Center.
Workers prepare the Bulls’ court at the United Center.
AP

The United Center hasn’t been very kind to the Bulls the last few seasons.

Check that — it actually has been a house of horrors.

Yet, win or lose, Friday’s game against the Celtics still will have meaning. It’ll be the first time fans are allowed in the building for a Bulls game since March 10, 2020, just before the coronavirus shut down the league and the sports world.

“I think it’s great,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Obviously, some of the arenas that we’ve got the opportunity to go to, they’re starting to let fans in. But hopefully we’ll be able to get — by next year — places filled. I’ve always said, just coming into Chicago, this is an electric environment. The fans here make it a great home-court advantage.”

Donovan’s right about the electric aspect but not the home-court advantage. The last winning season at home for the Bulls was 2016-17, when they went 25-16 at the UC and made the playoffs. After they fell to the Celtics in the first round, the rebuild was on, and Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo were all soon gone.

Since that dismantling, the Bulls are 52-96 at home — including this season — for a .351 winning percentage.

The UC is one of the last NBA arenas to allow fans back this season, and even with a limited capacity of around 4,000 for Friday’s game, players are excited to have some bodies in the stands and life in the building.

“It’s good,” guard Zach LaVine said. “Whenever we went and played in arenas where they had fans, it was refreshing, especially to interact with some of the people and hear the crowd noise. Some trash-talking or the cheers or whatever it is — just having that atmosphere in basketball is great.

“With your home fans and the city being back here, it’s going to be great. Very excited to at least play some games back at the United Center with our fans there.”

It’ll be four games, to be exact. The Bulls host the Celtics, then the Nets on Tuesday, the Raptors on Thursday and the Bucks next Sunday to end the season.

“Certainly, not having [fans] here early in the year for our guys was an adjustment,” Donovan said. “As a coach, I had a chance to go through a little bit of that in the [playoff] bubble [last season in Orlando] because there were no fans there. But for teams that didn’t get a chance to go into the bubble and really experience that, it took probably a little getting used to.”

Another sprainy day

Initially, Troy Brown Jr.’s sprained left ankle was expected to be a minor injury. But as with many of the Bulls’ setbacks this season, that hasn’t been the case. While the guard/forward has improved, he still missed his ninth straight game Thursday.

“Troy has been able to do a lot more straight-ahead running,” Donovan said. “The last time I reported on him, that was something [that] was kind of holding him back. . . . He’s still not at 100 percent, but certainly a lot closer to that than he was maybe a week ago.”

Brown, who was acquired at the trade deadline, had worked his way into the rotation. The hope is to have him back there for the final handful of games.