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Bulls lose again, but Lauri Markkanen moves another step closer to a return

MILWAUKEE — Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn’t dabble in excuses.

It’s just not the Mayor’s style.

But even he had to admit Wednesday that he was surprised at how little attention Lauri Markkanen’s injury and its impact on the Bulls had received nationally.

“[The effect] was huge,’’ Hoiberg said. “You look at what Lauri did this offseason and what he did to change his body and put on the 15 pounds of muscle and add quickness and strength and explosiveness.

“And to see how he finished [last] year. He was playing about 23-24 minutes at the end of the season and averaged about 20 points in those minutes. We were really looking forward to that.’’

That’s why there’s suddenly a bit more excitement around the Bulls’ locker room these days.

It certainly isn’t because of what’s taking place on the court.

For the second time in the last two weeks, the Bulls came into Bucks territory, built a nice first-quarter lead, then eventually succumbed.

Milwaukee’s 116-113 victory, courtesy of Khris Middleton’s three-pointer with 5.2 seconds left, was the fourth consecutive loss for the 5-17 Bulls and their eighth in the last nine games.

It’s an improvement on their 3-20 start from last season but a lot uglier than what was expected in the preseason.

It’s no wonder Markkanen’s progress is daily news. Markkanen (right elbow) came out of his first full-contact practice Tuesday with no aches, no pains and, more important, no reservations.

“No pain,’’ Markkanen said. “That’s the best part.’’

Markkanen will practice again Thursday in Detroit, go through individual workouts over the weekend in Detroit and Houston, then start forcing a decision on his return, possibly by next week.

Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker continued to shoulder much of the offensive load, scoring 24 points apiece against the Bucks (15-6). Ryan Arcidiacono chipped in 22 points, but it wasn’t enough.

The hope is the return of Markkanen will alter that dependence, whether LaVine and Parker are ready and willing for that change.

“Getting him back will shift roles again,’’ Hoiberg said. “Everybody is going to have to be ready for that. There’s going to have to be sacrifice. But I know all 15 guys in that locker room are excited to get him back.’’

Markkanen hopes that’s the case.

“I’m used to being a focal point,’’ Markkanen said. “I don’t know how everything is going to work out. But I’m excited to get back to work. I know Zach has been hot. Gotta keep him going.’’

That’s a good philosophy to have, but it wasn’t employed by the Bulls in the final seconds.

After Middleton’s three, Justin Holiday, not LaVine, tried to make the game-tying shot at the horn.

Holiday was leading the team in three-point shooting percentage, but he finished 2-for-10 from deep against the Bucks.

“I mean, I’ll shoot it 10 times again if I could,’’ Holiday said of the final play. “I thought it was going to drop.’’