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In a dark start to the season, Lauri Markkanen has been a bright spot

Coach Fred Hoiberg knew there were going to be growing pains early in the Bulls’ rebuild even before Bobby Portis punched fellow forward Nikola Mirotic in the face and sent him to the hospital.

The Bulls suspended Portis for eight games in the wake of the altercation, so they are down two players up front and have had a handful of others playing out of position in their first two games.

It has shown. In the Bulls’ season-opening loss Thursday to the Raptors, the makeshift second unit allowed a 28-4 run in the second quarter, leading to a one-sided loss. Then Saturday against the Spurs, the Bulls committed 19 turnovers and had a lot of miscommunication on both ends of the floor.

No wonder Hoiberg seemed a bit frustrated. Things would have been difficult enough for the Bulls with all their players up and running. But with a couple of key pieces missing? Good luck.


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‘‘It’s still a work in progress with everything we’ve had going on this last week, with playing guys at different positions that they haven’t played yet,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘We’re still trying to figure out exactly how we’re going to go out there and play. We’re getting stuck at times because guys are in the wrong spots. We have a couple of days [before the game Tuesday against the Cavaliers] to work on things.’’

The one positive in the Bulls’ 0-2 start is that rookie big man Lauri Markkanen has been forced to grow up quickly. He is starting in what would have been Mirotic’s spot, and he’s playing to great reviews.

He had 17 points and eight rebounds in 33 minutes against the Raptors and had 13 points and a game-high 12 rebounds in 37 minutes against the Spurs.

‘‘I’m getting more comfortable every game,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘Every second I’m on the floor, I’m getting more comfortable and I’m knowing what to expect. I can rebound, and I’m trying to prove that. That’s definitely one thing I’m focusing on.’’

Hoiberg will continue to lean on Markkanen for heavy minutes as he improves that aspect of his game.

‘‘Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter,’’ Hoiberg said of the misconceptions about Markkanen’s game. ‘‘That’s the label that Lauri kind of had, but he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile. He can put the ball on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that is
7 feet tall at his age.

‘‘He’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding [a few days ago] that he was going to be in the starting lineup.’’

One of Hoiberg’s challenges will be to develop a consistent bench. Against the Raptors, he used Quincy Pondexter, Antonio Blakeney and Ryan Arcidiacono. Against the Spurs, he stayed away from those three and called on Kay Felder and Denzel Valentine.

Either way, Hoiberg said too many players are doing too much thinking, which seems to stagnate the offense.

‘‘You play a lot better when you’re just out there reading and reacting,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘We’re not a team that can go at a mismatch. We’ve got to keep the ball moving.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com