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Bulls’ game Sunday called off because of Raptors’ ongoing virus issues

The Bulls have now had four games postponed this season. And with a cluttered second-half schedule that was already going to be a test, it’s only getting uglier to deal with.

Head coach Billy Donovan and the Bulls returned home to Chicago on Sunday after the league called off the game against the Raptors.
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This time there were no teams just sitting around with a free night and time to fill, no one to call next Sunday.

So the Bulls loaded up the team bus, headed to the airport in Tampa, Florida, and flew back to Chicago in the least fulfilling road trip of the season after being hit once again by the NBA’s version of a rainout.

The league said early Sunday that the scheduled game between the Bulls and Raptors, who have been playing their home games in Tampa because of Canada’s strict coronavirus guidelines, would be postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

It was the fourth game the Bulls have had postponed this season and the second one in February. Less than two weeks ago, the Bulls had a scheduled game against the Hornets postponed, but the NBA was able to bring the Pistons to town, so that neither team would have games continue to pile up in the second half of the season.

That option wasn’t available with this postponement, however, with the Bulls having a back-to-back on the schedule. They will welcome the Nuggets to the United Center at 7 p.m. Monday.

‘‘I think in this time right now you have to be adaptable and flexible,’’ Bulls veteran guard Garrett Temple said recently of the NBA trying to move games around if the situation presented itself.

It didn’t in this one, and that means an already-stuffed second-half schedule is going to become an even tougher grind.

The Bulls-Raptors game was the 31st the NBA has had to postpone this season. The Raptors easily could have their next few games postponed because they might be unable to field the minimum eight players required to play a game. Coach Nick Nurse is in the protocol, too.

But the NBA still is planning on playing the All-Star Game next Sunday in Atlanta, despite the logjam of regular-season games that’s making the schedule more cluttered. That’s why several players publicly have questioned why the All-Star Game is still a consideration.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine, who will be making an All-Star appearance for the first time, isn’t one of them. Not only does LaVine think the NBA will keep the experience safe, but he wasn’t even bummed about missing all the parties and gatherings that happen in a normal All-Star Weekend.

‘‘I’m going to enjoy it,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I’ve been a part of All-Star Weekend a couple of times [in the dunk contest], been there before, so I get the gist of it. With me, man, as long as [family and friends are] there with me . . . I’m going to be perfectly fine because that’s who I do it for.’’

The bigger concern with the postponement falls on coach Billy Donovan, who thought the second half was going to be difficult enough without adding an extra game.

Donovan and his staff already were meeting to discuss how to pace the team throughout the second half, and it’s more complicated than just practicing and playing games. There are minutes piling up, there are injured players who need practice time that suddenly is drying up and there are concerns that more postponements are coming.

‘‘I think it’s new for everybody,’’ Donovan said when discussing how the Bulls will maneuver through the next few months. ‘‘So can we find ways to be creative? Can we find ways to maybe do things differently that can be more productive or effective? I think we’ve got to think outside the box in terms of what we’re doing because there’s a lot of things that these guys are dealing with.

‘‘Even the rest component is really challenging at times because they have to test in the morning. So a lot of times, if they had an off day, they’ve still got to come in the morning and test, and then they’re testing at night. So that’s a component to it, as well. So how can we be creative to try to give them some rest to help them recover and at the same point continually progress?

‘‘[If] you don’t do anything, that’s probably not good. [If] you do too much, that’s not good, either. How can you walk that line where you feel like your team is prepared going into games and you’ve gotten a little bit of work in but maybe not too much? And then how do you keep those guys fresh mentally and physically to handle what’s getting ready to come?’’