Bulls

Mike Dunleavy practices with Bulls, hoping for February return

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Mike Dunleavy practices with Bulls, hoping for February return

The Bulls had a sweaty old guy running through sets with the second unit after Monday’s shootaround, and he went through his battery of shots well after everyone departed the Advocate Center in preparation for the game against the Miami Heat.

No, Mike Dunleavy won’t play but he’s miles away from the quietly-asked question of whether his back would allow him to play this season, now going through practices with the team and a season debut on the horizon.

“Lately it's going well. I'm practicing with the team,” Dunleavy said. “I'm closer, feeling a lot better. Hope to be out there soon.”

“Soon” is a relative term, as he would only say he expects to be on the floor in February, but Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said Dunleavy will go through a contact practice Tuesday and will travel on the west coast trip that begins Thursday.

“(We’ll) kind of put him in a controlled type situation with some of the guys and coaches,” Hoiberg said. “Get him out running our stuff in a controlled scrimmage type way. He will travel on this trip and hopefully practice with our team.”

Hoiberg said a return date is “still too early to determine” but with the way his team has been struggling, they hope Dunleavy’s return could stabilize the small forward spot in a way Tony Snell and Doug McDermott have been unable to do through 42 games.

Dunleavy isn’t the athletic, youthful wing the Bulls have been looking for in the trade market but when they were at their best last year, having a veteran who knew where to be and who shot 41 percent from three was a piece in the puzzle—a piece that ‘s likely depended on too much this time around, but is still needed.

But just getting to this point where a return appears certain is a victory, with his back injury leading to all types of questions. But Dunleavy said he’s not concerned about any setbacks, such as the one he suffered a month or so ago, causing him to shut down all basketball activity for 4-6 weeks.

“The back feels great. It's mostly conditioning, rhythm, timing,” Dunleavy said. “I haven't played a game since May. There's kind of a readjustment and getting back in the swing of things. But overall I feel really good.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Sitting on the bench has been torturous, as one can expect with this level of inactivity for this length of time. Dunleavy’s back had been acting up for some time in the offseason, with surgery as the last option. But he didn’t undergo with a procedure on his back until the first days of training camp.

“It's been awful, from a personal standpoint,” Dunleavy said. “I feel mostly bad for the organization, my teammates, coaches, just not being there for them. Somebody who considers himself reliable and someone you can count on, not being able to be there is the biggest thing for me. Looking forward to being out there and being with the guys and contributing.”

Dunleavy has seen the up and down play but has downplayed his tangible value to what he can bring, although a veteran presence can be invaluable considering the pieces who’ve had trouble producing anything on a consistent basis.

“Whatever a wily 35-year old can add,” he joked. “People are gonna say shooting but to me, I haven't thought much about that. it's a lot of the little things. Things that make a difference, getting back on defense, setting screens, moving without the ball. The little things that contribute to winning, that kind of make me valuable. Hopefully I can bring that and have an impact.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Of Bulls and Blackhawks, which team will finish with higher draft pick?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Of Bulls and Blackhawks, which team will finish with higher draft pick?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times), Hub Arkush (ProFootball Weekly) and Jason Goch (SB Nation) join Kap on the panel.

The guys debate which team will finish with a higher draft pick when the season ends: Bulls or Blackhawks?

Plus, hear their reaction to the MLB’s new pace-of-play rule change.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: