Bulls

With Lauri Markkanen (back spasms) out, Bulls lose to Clippers 112-106

The Bulls have been intrigued by 6-9, 245-pound forward Noah Vonleh and his three-point shot since they acquired the former first-round draft pick from the Trailblazers in February.

“When Portland beat us by 100 out there, he was raining threes like Ray Allen,” coach Fred Hoiberg said after the trade, referring to Vonleh’s 2-for-4 performance from long range against the Bulls in January.

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Vonleh got his best opportunity yet Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, getting a last-minute start — his first as a Bull — after Lauri Markkanen was a late scratch with back spasms.

Bulls guard Denzel Valentine (45) looks to pass against Los Angeles Clippers forward Sindarius Thornwell (0) and center DeAndre Jordan (6) on Tuesday night at the United Center. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

It would be a great story if Vonleh had responded with a memorable game that led the Bulls to victory and helped establish him as a foundation piece. But, alas, this rebuild isn’t a fairy tale. It’s a lot of work, and a long process with no end in sight. Vonleh scored eight points on 3-of-11 shooting — including 0-for-5 on three-pointers — with seven rebounds in 27 minutes as the Bulls lost to the Clippers 112-106 before 20,912 at the United Center.

“I felt like they were good shots. They were open shots,” Vonleh said. “I stepped into them. I just missed them tonight. It wasn’t a great shooting night. But I did some [good] things out there and I can just build off that. There are going to be off nights when I’m shooting. I’ve got to play hard, with energy and learn from that.”

It remains to be seen when Vonleh will get another shot. Markkanen is day-to-day, Hoiberg said. “He’s had some pain in his back the last couple of days and he felt really good [Tuesday] morning at shootaround and he was ready to go. And when he was getting activated in the weight room before the game he felt the pain in his lower back again.”

Markkanen’s absence gave Vonleh an opportunity, but the constant change in the Bulls’ starting lineup and rotation doesn’t seem to be helping matters. This was the sixth different starting lineup in the past six games. And it also prevented the Big Three foundation of Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine from getting the experience they need together to accelerate the rebuild.

Dunn scored 18 points on  6-of-9 shooting, with six assists. But LaVine struggled, shooting 3-of-13 from the field, 1-of-5 on three-pointers to finish with 10 points. Bobby Portis led the Bulls (23-44) with 19 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s tough [with all the different lineups]. But I don’t think we look at it like that,” Dunn said. “We just go out and play hard. We’re young. We’re trying to figure out who we are as a team. I think Noah did a good job. I think he gave us great minutes. He was a little winded because of those minutes, but he defended well. He got some good, easy looks. And he passed the ball pretty well.”

LaVine wasn’t about to blame his struggles on the ever-changing lineups.

“It’s not easy — I’ll say that. But that’s what it is,” LaVine said. “That’s the position we’re in right now, so we’ve got to deal with it.”

Hoiberg was left to accentuate the positives of another loss. The Bulls had 26 assists and only nine turnovers. And Vonleh got some valuable experience.

“I thought he did some really good things out there,” Hoiberg said. “I still like that pairing with he and Bobby when they’re together. He’s a 22-year-old kid — we still think there’s a lot of upside.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com