Guard Alex Caruso could be a key player as Bulls try to become whole again

The roster was uncertain for the game against the Lakers on Sunday, when the Bulls resume play, but the weeklong shutdown did allow Caruso’s hamstring to strengthen.

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The Bulls continued sticking to individual workouts Friday as they focus on getting more players out of the NBA’s health and safety protocols after a coronavirus outbreak that decimated the roster the last two weeks. They’ll return to practice as a team Saturday.

Combo guard Alex Caruso has managed to avoid the virus and the protocols, but he’s still limping his way back.

He was sidelined earlier this month with soreness from his lower right hamstring into his calf, missing two games before he returned last Saturday for the Bulls’ loss in Miami. He looked tentative in his movement in that game while playing on restricted minutes.

The postponement of two games this past week might be just what Caruso needed as he continues to get therapy on his leg and the Bulls try to slowly become whole again.

“No question, I think that helps Alex,” coach Billy Donovan said of the team’s weeklong shutdown. “He’s doing fine — there was no kind of residual effects or any kind of issue with him after the [Heat] game where he was experiencing any kind of symptoms in his hamstrings or any problems. He actually felt pretty good. Certainly, this week gives him more time to get treatment and continue to make that area in his hamstring stronger through the treatment, so I think he’s recovered.”

With starting guard Zach LaVine likely in the virus protocol until after Christmas, Caruso’s presence is not only important but needed. The Bulls announced that guard/forward DeMar DeRozan was out of the protocol as of Friday, but even so, there’s a good chance Caruso could start Sunday against his former team, the Lakers. He got the starting nod when the teams met in Los Angeles last month, and while he only took one shot the entire game, his impact was felt. In 34 minutes, he guarded almost every Lakers starter — including Anthony Davis on several possessions — and finished with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. He also was a plus-28 in the plus/minus category.

The Lakers might have raised him to be the player he is, but he wants to haunt them as he would any opponent.

“I think the most important thing for me was my time in L.A. and being around so many veteran players, true professionals,” he said recently. “They taught me how you’re supposed to go about your business, how you’re supposed to work, how you show up for practice, how you show up for every game, the attention to detail you take on opponents. . . . It kind of helped me figure out what I needed to do to stick around. And then, obviously, I just coupled that with my style, my energy, my passion. And it’s been working so far.’’

The Bulls won’t argue that. Even in missing several games, Caruso leads the NBA in steals per game with 2.2 and was tied for fourth overall in steals with 52. He also was tied for first with 3.8 deflections per game and was fourth in total deflections with 90.

His hands are disruptive, and his mentality is contagious. That’s just what the short-handed Bulls will need when they resume play.

“Through the course of the game, I just try and win each possession,” Caruso said. “If you have that mindset of being present, win each possession, I think they’ll eventually add up. You win enough of them, you win the game.”

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