Bulls can't hang with Miami after more players sidelined

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, top, fouls Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker (17) after Tucker grabbed a rebound during the second half Saturday in Miami.

    Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, top, fouls Miami Heat forward P.J. Tucker (17) after Tucker grabbed a rebound during the second half Saturday in Miami. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/11/2021 10:47 PM

The Bulls are missing enough players because of health and safety protocols, they can't afford to lose Nikola Vucevic within the game.

Needing their veteran center to step up under difficult circumstances, Vucevic hit just 3 of 15 shots from the field for 10 points. With seven players in protocols, the Bulls were blasted 118-92 by Miami on Saturday, despite 33 points from Zach LaVine.

 

"I'm coming up short for my teammates and that's the most frustrating part," Vucevic said. "There were games where I didn't play as well, but we were winning and it's not that big a deal. But when you lose and you don't play well, you feel like it's even more of your responsibility, your fault."

There were limited positives for the Bulls (17-10) on this night. LaVine, who is getting a reminder of what life was like before DeMar DeRozan arrived, was efficient with his offense. In the second quarter, the Bulls chipped away at an early deficit, then watched Miami go on a 10-0 run when LaVine took a brief rest.

Coming back from two games off with a hamstring injury, Alex Caruso played 27 minutes and seemed to be moving fine.

Caruso and Troy Brown Jr. joined the starting lineup Saturday, while Alfonzo McKinnie was the first man off the bench. McKinnie played 29 minutes in his Bulls debut. He and Devon Dotson were the top scorers off the bench with 6 points each.

"Everybody's probably a little bit out of sorts right now because we keep losing players," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "We're throwing different guys in, we need more from different guys."

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Miami was also short-handed, missing all-stars Jimmy Butler (tailbone) and Bam Adebayo (thumb surgery). The Heat still had its outside shooters, though, and jumped to an early lead by hitting 9 of 14 shots from 3-point range. Duncan Robinson led the Heat with 26 points, while center DeWayne Dedmon finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

The Bulls' second-leading scorer was Lonzo Ball with 15 points, but he went 4 of 12 from 3-point range. Brown added 10 points.

"I think one of the things without DeMar, Lonzo could help us on is maybe get downhill, get into the paint a little bit more and generate some stuff for himself at the basket or force some help and get his passing involved," Donovan said.

But the Bulls could certainly use more from Vucevic, a player who has averaged 20 points over a full season in the past. He struggled a bit early while getting used to new teammates, missed seven games after testing positive for COVID, but seemed to be coming around before the last two games.

"Yeah, I've gotten a lot of shots in my spots and even tonight I got some post-ups and some hook shots that I've made a career of and tonight nothing was falling for me," Vucevic said. "I look at the games and my shots and everything, I go through it and honestly I don't have an explanation for what's going on with my shot.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I was always very consistent throughout my career, I was always around a 50% shooter. I don't know. I've just got to figure it out, plain and simple."

Rookie Ayo Dosunmu and newcomer Stanley Johnson were the latest Bulls to enter health and safety protocols on Saturday afternoon. They joined DeRozan, Coby White, JaVonte Green, Matt Thomas and Derrick Jones Jr.

White reached 10 days in protocols Saturday, while Green will get there Monday. So it's conceivable the Bulls could have some players back by the time they host Detroit on Tuesday, but it's too soon to tell.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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