How can Chicago Bulls cope with extended absence of Dunn?
Losing point guard Kris Dunn, arguably the Chicago Bulls' most valuable player since their turnaround began, was certain to cause problems.
The Bulls started off well, though, on their three-game road trip. They opened with a victory in Atlanta, then led New Orleans by 18 points midway through the fourth quarter Monday.
But that lead crumbled and the Bulls lost to the Pelicans in double overtime. Then they were overwhelmed by rookie point guard Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday to finish the road trip 1-2.
The Bulls aren't sure when Dunn will return from a concussion. He suffered a brutal fall late in the Jan. 17 loss to Golden State, losing his balance after a breakaway dunk and landing face-first on the floor. Dunn loosened his two front teeth in the collision.
"I talked to Kris. He still has symptoms," coach Fred Hoiberg said Thursday at the Advocate Center. "You can still tell he's tired. He's sleeping a lot, which is a good thing to get his rest. It's very important that he stays hydrated throughout this process.
"But he still has the symptoms. So not a lot of change in that regard."
Ignoring the higher draft pick debate for a minute, how can the Bulls get back to playing well while Dunn is sidelined indefinitely?
Replacement Jerian Grant doesn't deserve all the blame. He has played well many times this season, either backing up or filling in for Dunn, and he finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds in New Orleans, missing just one shot.
But the Pelicans' comeback began when they started pressuring the ball and Grant didn't handle it well. Then he had a rough night against the 6-foot-10 Simmons, a tough matchup for any guard.
Against New Orleans, the Bulls missed Dunn's finishing skills more than anything.
Since the turnaround began on Dec. 8, he has been very good at creating shots for himself in the fourth quarter. In a game where the Bulls led by 17 points with less than five minutes remaining, any sort of basket could have sealed a victory.
Zach LaVine played down the stretch in the fourth quarter for the first time since returning from ACL surgery. He was able to use his speed to get a couple of decent looks, but he was off on his shot. Maybe the New Orleans game will turn out to be a good experience for LaVine as he tries to shake off the rust.
Another possibility is putting the ball in Lauri Markkanen's hands late in games. He has been effective off the dribble and demonstrated in the European championships last summer he can deliver in late-game isolations.
Markkanen hit a shooting slump, though, going 0-for-15 from 3-point range to start the three-game road trip before knocking down his final attempt in Philadelphia.
"I don't want to call it a slump," Markkanen said Thursday. "You guys can do whatever you want. Watch film a little bit but not think about it too much. Just get some extra shots up and take the good shots and not force anything. Concentrate on every shot. Get your follow through. And take good shots."
The Bulls have used LaVine as point guard for short stretches and have drawn up some plays for Markkanen to bring the ball up, so Hoiberg is trying to game plan some ideas while Dunn is sidelined. Two-way player Ryan Arcidiacono held his own as the backup point guard during the trip.
Another potential remedy is to mix lineups. David Nwaba and Bobby Portis consistently appear in the Bulls' most successful lineup combinations.
That's partially because they typically play against opponents' reserves, but Hoiberg could consider making them more than part-time players. Portis produced 22 points and 11 rebounds against Philadelphia in just 25 minutes.
"We miss Kris a lot," Markkanen said. "First of all, he's a great guy to have on the team. He's a positive guy in the locker room and he brings energy to us. He's a scoring weapon for us and can create plays for other guys as well. We miss him a lot and hopefully he can come back soon."
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Scouting reportBulls vs. Los Angeles Lakers at United Center, 7 p.m. Friday
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: Even with rookie PG Lonzo Ball missing the past five games with a knee injury, the Lakers (18-29) have won seven of their past nine. They edged Boston at home 108-107 on Tuesday with rookie PF Kyle Kuzma scoring 28 points. Kuzma is the team's top scorer at 16.7 ppg, followed by SF Brandon Ingram (15.5) and backup PG Jordan Clarkson (14.4). The Lakers are the second-worst team in the league (ahead of the Bulls) in points allowed on the road at 112.5. On Nov. 21 in L.A., the Bulls led by as many as 19 points but were outscored by 23 in the second half of a 103-94 loss. The Lakers have lost five of the last six at the UC but won last year.
Next: Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
-- Mike McGraw