Bulls go in shut-down mode, lose big to Blazers
The Bulls officially moved into shut-down mode. They played without any of their regular starters on Wednesday, then announced a decision to keep Lauri Markkanen off the court for the final two weeks of the regular season.
Markkanen skipped the second half of Tuesday's game in Toronto after experiencing fatigue and an elevated heart rate. Bulls coach Jim Boylen and vice president John Paxson said medical tests turned up nothing alarming, but they want to be cautious.
"His tests from his fatigue episode came back all positive," Boylen said after the Bulls' 118-98 loss to Portland. "But we're going to be as cautious with him and that incident the best we can, be as cautious as we can.
"Everything he's had done to him in the last 24 hours as come back positive. I think the word is unremarkable. Speaking with John and Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf), we just want to do what's best for him and not rush him back."
At this point, there doesn't appear to be any cause for concern. The Bulls obviously have nothing to play for and they'll probably use caution with all the projected starters.
"Obviously, it's a very long season, 82 games plus preseason plus all the work you put in in the offseason," Robin Lopez said. "I know a lot of European players, they put in the work back home too (with national teams). So it's a heck of a load, especially for younger players."
With Zach LaVine (knee), Otto Porter Jr. (shoulder), Kris Dunn (back) and Markkanen sidelined, the Bulls started the unlikely lineup of Shaq Harrison, Antonio Blakeney, Wayne Selden Jr., Brandon Sampson and Lopez.
This game went pretty much as expected. The Blazers (47-27) got off to a good start, then dug heavily into their bench, which kept the game from becoming a complete blowout. All-star Damien Lillard played 28 minutes, most among Portland starters.
There's no guarantee LaVine, Porter or Dunn will play again this season, either. If the Bulls were headed to the playoffs, they'd probably all be back, as well as injured rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison.
But bad luck can happen at any time in the NBA. Just ask the Blazers, who were playing their first game since center Jusuf Nurkic suffered a gruesome broken leg on Monday in double overtime against Brooklyn.
With nothing at stake, it's easy to choose the shut-down option. Even a sprained ankle could sideline a player for six weeks of the off-season and the Bulls certainly don't want a serious injury to knock a guy out for the start of next year.
Boylen was asked before the game if he thought LaVine would play again this season.
"I do. I hope he does," Boylen said. "I hope Kris plays again too. Again, every moment this team can be together, that we can get to know each other, play together, see who fits with who, is important."
One bright spot for the Bulls continues to be Harrison, who scored a career-high 21 points and added 10 rebounds. Harrison's offensive skills are slowly improving and he also hustles his way into some points.
"Hard work eventually shows," Harrison said. "Sometimes it doesn't show when you want it to, but it eventually shows. It's not like I've just been working these past two weeks, it's been an all-season grind."
Lopez and Cristiano Felicio added 15 points each, while Selden Jr. contributed 11 points and 12 rebounds. Selden played a combined 74 minutes in the set of back-to-back games.