Bulls continue taking cautious approach to Lauri Markkanen’s return
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Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen remains a pillar of optimism in his recovery from the injured right elbow he suffered in late September. He ramped up his conditioning Monday and continued to shoot from close range.
The Bulls, however, are more than just a pillar of cautiousness. They’re a brick wall.
The original timetable called for Markkanen to miss six to eight weeks, but Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg bumped that back to eight to 10 weeks before the game against the Mavericks. The Bulls want to make sure Markkanen is pain-free and fully conditioned for the grind of the regular-season schedule when he returns.
‘‘He’s still not shooting a lot,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘He’s shooting short-range shots. He’s getting really good conditioning workouts in, so when he is cleared to start shooting and has no pain in that type of activity, hopefully he can get back soon as far as when he’s cleared for contact. He’s doing as much as he can right now.’’
Because Markkanen is right-handed and a long-range shooter, that complicates things a bit. He relies on spreading the floor with his three-pointer and still is a ways away from shooting from out there.
‘‘We need to make sure that he’s 100 percent before he goes back out there,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘You’d hate to have a setback that keeps him out for a longer stretch. We’ll continue to test that elbow, and as soon as it’s pain-free, he’ll be cleared to go out there and take some contact.’’
Hoiberg then was asked if that means Markkanen will be out at least two weeks longer than originally anticipated.
‘‘Eight weeks will be in two weeks, so, yes, it will be more than the eight weeks,’’ he said. ‘‘Hopefully he’s cleared to get out there and then get himself back in shape in those next two weeks to be ready to be back on the floor.’’
Meanwhile, swingman Denzel Valentine (left ankle) has experienced some pain issues in his recovery and is out indefinitely.
The Markkanen effect
Considering Hoiberg had built a lot of new offensive sets around Markkanen heading into the season, he was asked whether he was going to lean on him when he does return or continue to run the offense through guard Zach LaVine.
‘‘We’re still going to run through Lauri quite a bit when he does come back,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘We’re playing pretty much through Zach and Jabari [Parker] right now, and when Lauri comes back, just with his unique skill set, we’ll be able to do a lot of things with him. I’m excited to see what those three can do out on the floor together.
‘‘I think two-man actions with Zach and with Lauri will be very effective . . . some things Lauri did last year with [injured point guard] Kris Dunn, which we kind of went to at the end of games in crunch time and had some pretty good results with it. So a lot of it is yet to be determined, but it’s fun to think about.’’