Payne produces, avoids injury in Bulls' loss to Milwaukee
This seemed to be a pretty typical development for the Bulls.
They were in a competitive game against Milwaukee and point guard Cameron Payne was one of the best players on the floor. Midway through the third quarter, though, Payne limped to the locker room.
Immediate concern focused on his surgically-repaired right foot. But Payne returned to the floor in the fourth quarter and after the game said the injury was nothing more than a mild sprain.
"I'm just a goofy dude, always roll my ankle when there's nobody around," Payne said. "Came back here just to see if it was all right. Got retaped, came back out."
By the time Payne returned, though, the Bulls' deficit had grown to 10 and they couldn't recover. Milwaukee, playing without all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo (sprained ankle) held on to win 118-105 at the United Center.
Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen returned to action after missing five games with a sore back. Zach LaVine (knee) and Kris Dunn (toe) remained out. None of the three will make the trip to Detroit for Saturday's game.
Markkanen played his prescribed 22 minutes, producing 9 points and 6 rebounds.
"I felt OK," Markkanen said in the locker room. "Of course, you think about it a little bit. But it was good to get out there and get some run in."
With the Bulls sitting several starters and basically playing out the string, it can be tough to find bright spots. But Payne stepped forward to put a little shine on Friday's first half.
The Bulls jumped out to a 15-4 lead at the start, Payne finished the first half with 12 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and no turnovers. Finally getting a chance to play consistent minutes, Payne has started to deliver positive results.
"His pace was phenomenal tonight," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Even on a made basket, he's getting the thing up the floor quickly, we're spraying the ball ahead. He's getting into the paint and making plays. He hit a couple good floaters.
"That first half was awesome to watch. He got a little tired to start the third, but I loved everything about Cam's game tonight. Certainly something he can build on."
The 17 points matched Payne's season-high and he continued to shoot well from deep. During March, the third-year pro has shot 45.7 percent from 3-point range.
"I'm just feeling a little confident, just trying to get my teammates involved, make sure everybody else happy," Payne said. "We're playing fast. To me, that's the best way to play and that's how Fred likes to play, so I feel like it's good for our team."
The Bulls (24-48) accomplished their goal of being more competitive than they were on Wednesday against Denver. They fell behind while Payne sat out. Denzel Valentine led the Bulls with 20 points. Ex-Bull Tony Snell scored a season-high 18 points for the Bucks on 6 of 6 shooting from the field.
"I loved our effort, especially early," Hoiberg said. "I thought we came out of the gate with the right mentality. It was fun to watch and fun to see the guys respond to a bad performance."
Scouting reportBulls vs. Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena, 6 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Chicago
Radio: WSCR 670-AM
Outlook: The Pistons' playoff hopes are fading fast with a 32-40 record. They started Friday's action 5½ games behind Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the East. PF Blake Griffin is putting up good numbers in his new home, averaging 20.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists, but Detroit has gone 9-14 since he arrived from the Clippers. C DeAndre Jordan leads the NBA with 15.8 rebounds per game. The Bulls made their first visit to the new Little Caesars Arena on Mar. 9 and lost 99-83. They did beat the Pistons 107-105 at the UC on Jan. 13.
Next: Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center on Tuesday, 7 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw