Slumping Bulls appear ready to give Parker another chance

The Bulls' rotation choices against the Los Angeles Lakers were likely a preview of what they had in mind for the rest of the season. But plans change.

Veteran center Robin Lopez didn't play in the 107-100 loss and he could be headed toward a buyout once the NBA trade deadline passes in three weeks, on Feb. 7.

Lopez may also return to the starting lineup because rookie Wendell Carter Jr. injured his left thumb against the Lakers. According to reports, an MRI showed no ligament tear, but Carter is not expected to play Thursday in Denver. That would snap his streak of starting all 44 games this season. Carter has also been dealing with a sore left knee.

Jabari Parker not only played against the Lakers, he was the Bulls' leading scorer with 18 points in 17 minutes. Perhaps sensing the futility of trying to trade Parker without taking a bad contract in return, the Bulls appear ready to give their free-agent addition another chance.

After playing 4 minutes in the Dec. 13 game at Mexico City, Parker saw the floor just once in the next 13 games before filling in for an injured Bobby Portis on Saturday in Utah. Both Portis and Parker played against the Lakers.

Portis went 1-for-11 from the field, but Parker played well. He hit 7 of 10 shots overall, including a pair of 3-pointers and a couple of highlight-level dunks.

"It's a blessing to be out there on the court again," Parker told reporters after the game, according to "I just have to remember this is the game that I love and all the distractions go out the roof when I step on the floor. Getting these opportunities was obviously something I like and I was just trying to make the right play."

Coach Jim Boylen hasn't been specific about the reasons for Parker's benching, but it seems clear he wanted to see a better defensive effort from Parker, both in games and practice. Boylen wants to build a foundation based on defensive energy and, with other young players watching, didn't think he could give Parker a pass.

Boylen praised Parker's practice habits before Tuesday's game. There seemed to be a few points where Parker and Boylen disagree.

"Just communicate with me, that's what the struggle has been so far," Parker said. "I don't know what's going on. I bring a lot of aspects to the game. I don't bring just one dimension. I can play any position, so position is not the excuse.

"I know what I can do. I am the same guy. Every time when I go out there it's going to be the same thing - be solid, play smart and see how it goes. ... It's the same way I've been playing when I was playing before. No change. just who I am."

It's clear the Bulls need some sort of change. The loss to the Lakers was their eighth in a row and they haven't come close to winning a game on this Western road trip, which ends Thursday. A few weeks ago, the Bulls actually won three of four games, then played well in an overtime loss to the Pacers on Jan. 4. Since then, the defense has disappeared and no one has played particularly well.

Meanwhile, there was a report this week Golden State is anxious to add Lopez, but the Bulls have refused to consider a contract buyout. Houston may have joined Lopez wish list now that center Clint Capela will be sidelined for several weeks.

The Bulls are rejecting buyout suggestions in the faint hope they can land an asset in a trade for Lopez. That seems unlikely, since Golden State and Houston don't have any expiring contracts that could be traded. It remains to be seen if the Bulls will agree to cut Lopez loose once the trade deadline passes.

During his Christmas Day radio address, Bulls executive vice president John Paxson promised the team wouldn't resort to benching veterans like they did last year. Plans change, though, and the Bulls need to find some way to start playing better. Tanking for better draft lottery chances has already taken care of itself.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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Bulls game day

Bulls vs. Denver Nuggets, 8 p.m. at the Pepsi Center

TV: NBCSCH-plus; Radio: WSCR 670-AM

Outlook: Denver has not been a pleasant destination for the Bulls. They've lost 11 straight at the Pepsi Center, dating back to Feb. 8, 2006. ... The Nuggets (29-14) were in first place in the Western Conference until losing by 31 to Golden State on Tuesday. The Warriors scored an NBA-record 51 points in the first quarter, something the Bulls can relate to. ... Center Nikola Jokic has been the catalyst to Denver's success, averaging 19.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.5 assists. SG Jamal Murray is averaging 18.5 points. Third-leading scorer Gary Harris missed the last five games with a hamstring injury. ... The Bulls lost to the Nuggets 108-107 in overtime on Oct. 31 at the UC, thanks to Paul Millsap's putback with 0.1 seconds remaining. The Bulls had a close call in Denver last season, losing 111-110 on Will Barton's driving lay in with 3.2 seconds left, after Kris Dunn put the Bulls ahead with 9.6 seconds on the clock.

Next: Miami Heat, 7 p.m. Saturday at the United Center

- Mike McGraw

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