Chicago Bulls playing cautious with injuries as season winds down
It's that time, late in a rebuilding season, when minor injuries are treated with extreme caution.
So Lauri Markkanen will miss his third straight game with back spasms on Saturday when the Bulls host Cleveland. Point guard Kris Dunn will join him on the sideline because of a toe injury suffered Thursday against Memphis. But that's not all.
"Zach (LaVine) has a little bit of tendinitis (in his knee). So he's up in the air," coach Fred Hoiberg said Friday. "And then Noah Vonleh is 50-50 with a toe injury."
Asked who will start Saturday's game, Hoiberg said he had no idea. It seems likely Jerian Grant will be dusted off and added to the lineup, and it will be interesting to see if Grant gets the start after the Bulls promoted Cameron Payne to a starter's role.
Dunn scored 6 points in 25 minutes at Memphis. LaVine led the Bulls with 20 points, but didn't play in the fourth.
"He (LaVine) just has a little soreness," Hoiberg said. "Nothing out of the ordinary."
Vonleh played a season-high 33 minutes against the Grizzlies, starting his second-straight game.
Backcourt chemistry lacking:
With Kris Dunn sidelined on Saturday, it's another setback to the Bulls' backcourt chemistry. Dunn and Zach LaVine haven't played together very often this season and are still figuring out how to mesh together.
Coach Fred Hoiberg shared some thoughts on that topic:
"Zach has to get out and run the floor," Hoiberg said. "He's waiting in the backcourt for the ball. That's Kris Dunn's job. We have to recognize those situations better.
"If you run the floor, you're going to take the defense with you. It's something we work on every day for the rim-runner."
Bulls finish strong:
The fourth quarter in Memphis was a strange one. The Grizzlies played their starters, the Bulls used bench players, but the Bulls pulled out a 111-110 victory when Antonio Blakeney hit 2 of 3 free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Memphis, which owns the NBA's worst record, ran its losing streak to 19 in a row.
"That was a high-level game for two teams that aren't competing for a playoff spot," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I think 10 possessions (early in the fourth), there was 9 3s -- 5 by us, we made 5 out of 5, 4 out of 5 by them.
"It was pretty entertaining for two teams that are just going out there and playing for pride right now."
Denzel Valentine (2), Cameron Payne (2) and Bobby Portis hit the Bulls' five straight 3-pointers. The Bulls finished the game with Payne, Blakeney, Paul Zipser, Noah Vonleh and Cristiano Felicio on the floor.
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliers at the United Center, 7 p.m. Saturday
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: After all the trade deadline maneuvers, Cleveland (39-29) is just 5-7 over its last five games and is in a dogfight to secure a top-four seed in the East. The Cavs just played five games out West (winning two) and lost in Portland on Thursday. LeBron James is trying to carry the team on his back, averaging 30.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.0 assists over the last 10 games. The Cavaliers basically played an all-perimeter lineup in Portland because PF Larry Nance Jr. was out with a hamstring injury, while Kevin Love (hand) and Tristan Thompson (ankle) were already out. Newcomer SF Cedi Osman is also sidelined by a groin injury. That leaves Jordan Clarkson, Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, George Hill, J.R. Smith and Rodney Hood as some of Cleveland's healthy players. The Bulls are 0-3 against the Cavs this season.
Next: New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Monday, 6:30 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw