Back pain, back gain: Lauri Markkanen set to return to Bulls lineup

As much as the Bulls struggled to get their feet under them over the first 25 games of the season — a 5-20 stretch that won’t be immortalized in any time capsule — at least they were able to count on forward Lauri Markkanen to deliver on a somewhat consistent basis. The 7-footer started all 25 of those games and ranks fourth in points (14.1) and second in rebounds (8.1) per game among NBA rookies.

Markkanen missed each of the team’s last three games with back soreness, with Nikola Mirotic filling in exceptionally well in a starting role, but coach Fred Hoiberg was confident after Monday’s morning shoot-around at the United Center that Markkanen would be back in the first five hours later against the 76ers.

“Lauri is doing well,” Hoiberg said. “He had a really good practice [Sunday] and he made it through shoot-around this morning, so we anticipate having Lauri back in the lineup tonight as a starter.”

The Bulls will take on a 76ers team that’s without star center Joel Embiid. That can’t hurt as the Bulls chase their sixth consecutive victory — the last three of which have been thanks in especially large part to Mirotic, who has averaged 25 points and 8.3.rebounds.

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen goes to the basket against the Spurs' Pau Gasol during a game earlier this season at the United Center. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

In five games overall since returning to the court after recovering from teammate Bobby Portis’ punch heard ’round the world, Mirotic is averaging 20 points and 6.2 boards and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.

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Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com