Near the end of the Bulls’ shootaround at the Advocate Center, Zach LaVine was at one end of a court doing shooting drills.
At the other end, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis — all working their way back from injury — were going through conditioning. During the portion of the session open to the media, the exercises consisted of running, lateral movement and some shots and layups.
The contrast was stark for the shorthanded Bulls, who lost 103-96 to the Heat on Friday night at the United Center. While LaVine, in the midst of a career season, was working to put up extra shots, three key members of the team were still trying to return to health.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Friday marked the most work Dunn and Portis had done since their knee sprains, but neither is ready for any contact. Markkanen will get “controlled contact” Saturday when he plays in a scripted 2-on-2 session. Though there’s still no target date for his season debut, he could return to practice soon.
Whenever those three come back, the Bulls will receive a needed infusion. And, as their loss indicated, maybe a little more effort.
With Wendell Carter Jr. again in foul trouble, the Heat led by 26 points in the second quarter and were up 60-39 at halftime. The Heat outscored the Bulls 32-13 in the second quarter, during which the Bulls shot 2-for-19, had four shots blocked and committed nine turnovers.
“That was the difference,” Hoiberg said. “It’s been a tough quarter for us all year long, and we just didn’t have any resiliency in that second quarter [to] fight through the tough times.”
But instead of allowing the evening to become another embarrassment, the Bulls rallied. They outscored the Heat 30-18 in the third quarter and eventually cut the lead to four points in the fourth — though they couldn’t overcome their earlier deficit and missed another chance to win consecutive games for the first time.
“It was one of those times when we have lulls again, which is one of our biggest problems,” said Justin Holiday, who had 27 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. “The thing that we showed is if we come out and play hard regardless of the shots going in or not, getting stops and running the floor hard, bringing the energy and effort, what we can possibly do. Again, we continue to show ourselves what we’re capable of doing, but at the same time, I guess what we’re capable of doing negatively, as well.”
The Bulls certainly are capable of not playing hard enough. Holiday said the Bulls weren’t putting forth enough effort in the second quarter.
“We were not. We weren’t,” Holiday said. “We were not.”
Which led to this question: Why does it so often take these Bulls so long to get into gear?
“That’s a great question,” Holiday said. “If we can find the answer to that and take care of it, then we will. I don’t know exactly the reason. We have to find a way to be able to not have those times and continue to play.”
Some of the loudest cheers Friday were reserved for three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade, in town for the penultimate time, and Bears linebacker Khalil Mack, who was sitting courtside. Wade scored 10 points in 24 minutes and was welcomed loudly when he checked in for the first time. Mack was greeted with even louder applause when he was shown on the video board during the first half.