Bulls center Nikola Vucevic set to reach milestone but wants more

Playing 82 regular-season games would be quite the accomplishment for Vucevic, but the big man would really like to reach game No. 85.

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Nikola Vucevic

Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic was set to play in game No. 82 Sunday against Detroit, reaching the milestone for the first time in his career.

Tony Gutierrez/AP

As long as he avoids slipping in the shower or stepping on a kid’s stray toy in the morning, Nikola Vucevic will reach an impressive milestone in the Bulls’ regular-season finale Sunday afternoon at the United Center.

For the first time in his 12-year NBA career, he will have played in all 82 regular-season games.

Vucevic hit 80 in the 2018-19 season; he has been in the 70s four times.

“I really want to get there, do all 82,’’ Vucevic said Saturday. “It’s very hard to do. Not a lot of people can do it, so it’s something I want to do for myself. It speaks to my continuity, staying healthy. I’m not a big fan of sitting out. Usually I want to play if I can. It’s a little achievement for myself, and something I can be proud of.’’

In a time in which load management is the norm, Vucevic would join a club of about 10 players — including teammate Patrick Williams — who will play in all 82 regular-season games.

Only Vucevic and the Knicks’ Isaiah Hartenstein, however, are considered centers, which makes Vucevic’s achievement even more impressive.

“With the way the league goes, and I know there’s a lot of talk about load management and guys missing games, but I think you need to look at the fact that the game is so much faster today,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “Points are going up; there are more possessions. It’s more taxing on you.

‘‘For him as a center, a big guy, to take care of his body the way he does . . . when you’ve got a player like ‘Vooch,’ availability is critical. I give him a lot of credit for how he has kept himself available.’’

Vucevic credited a good work ethic derived from watching his father play professionally as well as a great routine picked up through the years from veteran teammates and his wife, Nikoleta, for allowing him the few extra hours of sleep when needed. But there’s also an element of good old-fashioned luck.

“You can do everything right, and then you step on someone’s foot and miss time,’’ Vucevic said.

But playing in 85 games would be even more meaningful for Vucevic than playing in 82.

That would mean the Bulls won both play-in games this week and would be headed for the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

It’s a tough ask, however, considering a No. 10 seed has never made it out of the play-in tournament since the format began in 2020.

Then again, no No. 10 seed has been as underachieving and inconsistent as the Bulls.

That’s what makes the game in Toronto on Wednesday so intriguing. All four of the Eastern Conference play-in teams have shown they can beat the NBA’s best on any given night, then turn around and lose to the Rockets, who have been in tank mode since November.

Vucevic was hoping that there have been enough bad losses, disappointing injuries and blown leads this season to more than teach some painful lessons to the Bulls.

If they haven’t learned from everything that has been thrown at them by now, it might never come.

“We’ve been through everything,’’ Vucevic said. “We know what works for us, what doesn’t. We also know that sometimes we don’t do it. It all depends on how we approach the game, how locked in we are, how we manage the game.

“We know it won’t be an easy one, playing on the road in Toronto — one of the toughest environments to play in. It’s one game — win or lose — and a lot can happen. Just have to do a really good job preparing ourselves for that game.’’

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