Markkanen feels ready to return, tries to stay positive as Bulls limp to finish
The Bulls are just playing out the season trying to avoid any more miserable results like Wednesday's blowout loss to Denver.
One potential positive development is the chance rookie Lauri Markkanen could return to action Friday against Milwaukee. He has missed five games with a sore back. Before Thursday's practice, Markkanen said he felt able to play.
"It's probably the best it's felt in a couple weeks," he said. "I'm excited to hit the practice floor."
While it would be beneficial for the Bulls' young nucleus to get some time on the floor together, Kris Dunn (toe) and Zach LaVine (knee) are still sidelined. Coach Fred Hoiberg said Paul Zipser (foot) is likely out for Friday and if Markkanen plays against the Bucks, he'll skip Saturday's back-to-back in Detroit.
The Bulls also got bad news on shooting guard Antonio Blakeney. An MRI revealed a non-displaced scaphoid fracture in his left wrist, so he is done for the season. The Bulls say the injury happened in Monday's game in New York, but Blakeney tried to gut it out and played 23 minutes in the loss to Denver.
"I wish we had the full squad every time," Markkanen said. "Of course, it's a little disappointing. I haven't played too much with Zach so hopefully he gets back too. There's always something to gain."
Hoiberg has said they'll keep LaVine out for a week and then see how he feels. Dunn has been wearing a walking boot, so his return is uncertain.
Winning games isn't a high priority for the Bulls right now, but they do hope to avoid outings like Wednesday, when they fell behind Denver 77-46 at halftime. The Nuggets shot 61.4 percent from the field.
How competitive should the Bulls expect to be with three starters injured and center Robin Lopez placed on the shelf in the name of player development?
"We had the same group against Cleveland (last Saturday) and I thought we played a complete game," Hoiberg said. "We played with an edge and played with great confidence in that game. We were tied with under a minute to go. We're capable."
The Cavaliers were severely short-handed that night as well, but did have LeBron James available. Milwaukee, like Denver, is trying to secure a playoff spot, though Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is listed as doubtful with a sprained ankle.
"I don't care who's on the floor, the effort has to be consistent," Hoiberg said. "And you have to come out the gate and hopefully get off to a good start. We've got to find a way to get that back. I know we only have 11 games left, but we can't quit. We have to keep teaching, we have to get better."
The losses, however, could get the Bulls a higher draft pick in June. There have been some individual achievements, such as Cristiano Felicio leading in scoring for two straight games after struggling to get on the floor early in the season.
While most of what happens through the end of the season is meaningless, Markkanen offered a positive spin.
"Just want to finish strong as a team," said the Finland native. "Get some rhythm going into a big offseason for everybody. I just want to finish strong and get better. Get it? Finnish?"
Bulls game dayBulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center, 7 p.m. Friday
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Bucks (37-34) have been fading, but still have a five-game lead on Detroit for the final playoff spot in the East. Top scorer Giannis Antetokounmpo left Wednesday's home loss to the Clippers with a sprained ankle and has been listed as doubtful for this game. PF Jabari Parker has played in 20 games since returning from his second ACL surgery and scored a season-high 20 points against the Clippers. SG Khris Middleton (20.2 ppg) and PG Eric Bledsoe (17.3) are the top scorers if Antetokounmpo doesn't play. SG Malcolm Brogdon is out with a quad injury. The Bulls won at Milwaukee twice in December, then lost at the UC 110-96 on Jan. 28. The Bucks are 4-9 since Feb. 25.
Next: Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday, 6 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw