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‘A good day’ for Lauri Markkanen: Bulls big man moves closer to return

NEW YORK — Coach Fred Hoiberg was asked during the weekend if he had a feel for which of his four injured players would be back first, but he refused to play the guessing game.

He offered up a bit more clarity Monday.

During the afternoon shootaround, Lauri Markkanen (right elbow) and Denzel Valentine (left ankle) continued getting individual work in, but Markkanen seemed to be ahead of the rest.

“Lauri had a good day as far as conditioning,’’ Hoiberg said. “He did more than he has. Denzel did some straight-ahead running and spot shooting, still has not cut on the ankle.

“We’ll try to get Lauri in game shape as quickly as possible.’’

The original prognosis for Markkanen’s return was mid- to late November. It’s his shooting elbow, so there’s concern about how it will affect his shot, but the fact that he’s able to condition his legs is huge.

Valentine said Monday afternoon went well, and he was walking without a limp, but he’s still not doing any lateral movement, so a “quick return’’ doesn’t appear imminent.

Bobby Portis (right knee) and Kris Dunn (left knee) remain off the return radar at this point.

Hoiberg has insisted that the G League’s Windy City Bulls will be a busy place for all four guys, especially because of how much more practice they can get in with that team.

“When you miss an extended time, like all four of our guys are going to miss before they come back into the mix, it’s tough,’’ Hoiberg said. “You lose all your conditioning. Nothing can compare to game-type action. We’re probably going to have to use Windy City for a couple of these guys, to get them back on the floor based on our schedule. We have a lot of games in a short amount of time.’’

If Markkanen indeed is the first player to return, it should be somewhat seamless, especially because of his role. He would move right back into the starting lineup, playing alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. in the frontcourt.

It won’t be as easy for Valentine, who has watched numerous young players fill his role off the bench.

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“Before the season, I knew my role,’’ Valentine said. “But at this point, I’ve been out. When I come back, I’ll accept my role. I’ll be happy just to be playing.’’

Niko vs. Bulls

Nikola Mirotic obviously wanted out of Chicago last season. On Wednesday, he’ll have a chance to show his former teammates exactly what they’re missing.

The Bulls travel to New Orleans and will face Mirotic, who entered Monday averaging career highs in minutes (31.6), points (22.4), rebounds (10.9) and field-goal percentage (.507).

The Pelicans and Bulls played in the preseason, but Mirotic was nursing a sore ankle.

“I’m blessed the Bulls gave me the opportunity to be here,’’ Mirotic said then. “I’m not saying they used me the best way they could to improve my game, but just having the opportunity was great, and I’m just thankful.’’

With Portis sidelined, a lot of the intrigue will be missing. Portis and Mirotic had issues going back a few years that erupted last training camp, when Portis punched Mirotic in the face and broke his jaw.