Bulls' Lauri Markkanen will miss 2-4 weeks with shoulder injury

It's a new year, new coaching staff and new front office, but the Bulls are still dealing with the old problem of injuries to key players.

The Bulls announced Monday forward Lauri Markkanen will miss two to four weeks after an MRI exam confirmed the original diagnosis of sprained right acromioclavicular joint.

The injury happened in the first half of Friday's loss to Orlando when Markkanen collided with Magic forward Gary Clark on a drive to the basket. He went to the locker room briefly, returned to the floor and continued playing, but left the game for good after taking another hit to the right shoulder at the start of the third quarter.

Markkanen joins center Wendell Carter Jr. on the sideline. Carter has missed nine games and is expected to be out for at least two more weeks with a right quad contusion. Otto Porter has missed the last three games with a sore back.

Markkanen's injury was reminiscent of a shoulder problem suffered by Chandler Hutchison after he ran into a screen at Golden State last season. Hutchison missed 17 games initially, then was sidelined for the final 10 games of the season after a recurrence.

Without Markkanen on Saturday, coach Billy Donovan started Denzel Valentine, who responded with his first 20-point outing in nearly three years. Rookie Patrick Williams slid over to the power forward spot. He recorded a career-high 20 points Friday, then added his first career double-double Saturday.

Daniel Gafford has started at center in Carter's place and is admittedly struggling in the new role. He played just 11 minutes and 13 minutes in the two games at Orlando.

“I've got to play better than what I've been playing,” Gafford said after Monday's shootaround. “I can do a whole lot better than how I've been playing. Everybody has seen it. I just have to come out and play the same basketball I'm used to playing instead of coming out and trying to be a whole different person.”

As a backup, Gafford fit well into the role of bringing energy with the second group, blocking shots and finishing alley-oops. Facing stronger competition in the starting lineup has been a challenge so far.

When the Bulls host Washington on Monday, Gafford shouldn't have as imposing a matchup as he did in Orlando with Nikola Vucevic. The Wizards started Alex Len at center in Sunday's loss to Charlotte, although former Bulls center Robin Lopez played more minutes. Washington's original starter, Thomas Bryant, is out for the year with a knee injury.

“I kind of get in my own head sometimes,” Gafford said. “When you get in your own head, you can go into a dark place and it's hard to pull yourself out of it. Luckily, I've got great guys on this team that help me get out of that situation.

“Thaddeus Young, Garrett Temple, Zach LaVine — I've always got guys in my ear that's really just helping me get out of my own funk. If I'm in my own funk, I'm no good for the team at all.”

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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