NEW YORK — Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are starting after their lengthy injury absences, but Sunday marked Otto Porter Jr.’s fourth straight game off the bench since he returned.
And Porter said that’s fine with him.
“We talked to the trainers about what’s the best way to bring me back without sitting me down for a long time. Just try to keep me involved in the game,” Porter said. “Everything was planned how it was supposed to be planned. Right now, I know that I need this because I’m trying to work my way back. I’m not trying to jump the gun and just go full all out. This is all planned for my comeback.”
Porter scored 10 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter of the Bulls’ wild comeback attempt that fell just short in a 110-107 loss to the Nets. He sank all three 3-point attempts in the period and added a steal in just over seven minutes.
It’s this type of shotmaking and presence that underscores his importance.
“He makes tough shots. He has a calmness about him. He can get to his shot. He’s all about the team,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He can make contested 3s. He can make big shots, timely shots. He has done that his whole career, and we need him to do that for us.”
Overall, Porter played 25 minutes, 27 seconds and posted four steals, three rebounds and two assists while shooting 9-for-17. In his four games back from missing 51 with a foot fracture, Porter has averaged 12.8 points in 20 minutes.
“Getting there. Body is still trying to catch up to my mind,” Porter said. “Man, for real, I know it’s going to be hard mentally and physically because I haven’t played in so long. I’m just trying to do whatever I can and play hard and try to get my legs back and help my teammates out as much as possible.”
His teammates know what he brings.
“He’s such a floor spacer. He can shoot. He can create out of the pick-and-roll. He’s big. He’s long. He has a high IQ. He can pass, has a good feel for the game,” Coby White said. “He’s automatic from three levels of the court.”
Asked if he’d like to start eventually, Porter said: “It’s just how I feel. When I’m ready, I’ll be ready.”
One day after Boylen said “the day is coming” for White to start, the rookie guard did nothing to change anybody’s mind. In fact, don’t be surprised to see White start as early as Tuesday at home against the Cavaliers. That’s also when Zach LaVine could return from his strained left quad.
“Coby I thought was terrific. He’s growing every day,” Boylen said. “He’s done an unbelievable job of working his habits and being ready to play. He’s a competitive guy and he’s growing exponentially every day.”
White scored 21 points for his seventh 20-point game over his last eight. But it’s his overall game that is jumping out now. He added eight assists, six rebounds and strong defense.
“If I start, I start. If I don’t, I don’t,” White said. “I’m going to keep playing hard and stay focused and keep grinding.”
White, Porter and Shaq Harrison's fingerprints were all over the frantic late comeback. The Bulls forced an opponent season-high 29 turnovers and, after trailing by nine with 1:25 left, almost pulled into a tie when a 3-pointer from White rattled in and out with nine seconds left.
“I thought it was cash,” White said. “This team, we never quit fighting. We fight all the way until the buzzer blows.”