Bulls

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

Bulls thankful Kris Dunn's injury wasn't worse; Zach LaVine cleared for extended minutes

The fall was nasty and the concussion was substantial for Kris Dunn. But at second blush the Bulls are thankful it wasn’t worse.

Given the way his body jerked after Dunn released himself from the rim, the Bulls are glad he didn’t suffer a neck injury in addition to the concussion and dislocated front teeth.

“It could have been a major, major injury,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously, it is a significant one with the concussion. You can't take these things lightly, but with the way that he fell and hit head first, we're really thankful that he'll be back hopefully before too long. But obviously we'll take things very cautiously, a cautious approach with this because of how significant concussions are. But hopefully we'll get him back soon.”

Dunn has braces on the front teeth to stabilize them, and Hoiberg said he’ll see the doctor every day over the next several days, per the league's concussion protocol. There’s a chance Dunn could join the Bulls on the three-game road trip, but he’ll miss at least Saturday’s game in Atlanta. The Bulls travel to New Orleans on Monday and Philadelphia on Wednesday.

It’s the second freak injury Dunn has suffered this season, in addition to dislocating his finger in the preseason. He struggled with it initially upon returning but recently had shown no signs of issues with it.

Dealing with a concussion and also a mouth injury makes things more complicated as far as his playing style. He plays aggressive and fast, bordering on recklessness occasionally.

Hoiberg doesn’t believe that will change when Dunn returns.

“I don't think it's going to change the way Kris plays,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously it was very unfortunate in the timing because he had a couple of really good plays there to get things really turned in our favor and get the momentum going down the stretch and they get a called timeout and get a layup out of it right away. Then we still had our chances late in that game. Kris was responsible as anybody for getting that game to striking distance. Unfortunately, we just couldn't make the plays we needed to to get the win.”

The more conservative style of Jerian Grant will take over in Dunn’s absence. Grant has been steady as a backup, averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 assists. Unlike Dunn, though, Grant hasn’t had issues with turnovers, at a four-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio this year.

Teams will dare Grant to beat them from the outside, as he’s missed 15 of his 16 3-point attempts this month.

“I've been here before, so I'm prepared. I've started a lot of games so far in my career, so I'm ready for it,” Grant said. “The last time I started, we got a win. I did what I had to do so I'm prepared to do whatever we need to do to get a win.”

Where Grant will receive relief is from Zach LaVine getting clearance for more minutes, as he’ll play in the fourth quarters and will have his minute-restriction increased to 24 minutes.

LaVine will likely play some point guard during stretches, and is shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range in the small sample size of three games and 19.7 minutes.

“We're not going to overextend him right now because he's still obviously very early in the process as far as getting back on the floor and getting in game shape,” Hoiberg said. “We don't want to get him fatigued out there so we'll keep his rotation stretches short. But wee will hopefully have him available some in the fourth quarter to give us what Kris does down the stretch, who's been as good as anybody on our team as far as helping out close games.”

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.