Monday morning shootaround ahead of the Bulls' matchup with the Mavericks saw a couple lights pop up at the end of the injury tunnel.
Otto Porter Jr., for one, is active for the first time since Nov. 6. Tonight will snap a streak of 51 consecutive games missed for Porter, and mark his tenth appearance of the season, overall. He'll operate on a minutes restriction that head coach Jim Boylen estimated will be somewhere in the 16-20 minute range, though no decision on the team's starting lineup was announced.
Porter said he never anticipated the injury to his left foot — which was at first diagnosed as a sprain before being determined a fracture — would keep him out this long, but he's excited to get back. In 24 games with the Bulls dating back to last season, Porter is averaging 15.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game on 45.8% 3-point shooting (five attempts per game). His length, defense and scoring prowess on the perimeter will be a welcome infusion for a team currently struggling on both ends of the floor — the Bulls went 1-8 in February with the lowest-rated defense in the league.
"It's been a tough one. This is the longest I've ever been out, away from the game of basketball," Porter said. "But you know, you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about the team, the game and what you can do."
Lauri Markkanen was again sighted at the Advocate Center doing some light shooting after shootaround. He went on to practice with the Windy City Bulls Monday afternoon, his first contact activity since being sidelined with an early stress reaction in his pelvis in late January.
"He's assigned with the G League today, he will practice with the G League here at noon," Boylen said. "He feels good about that, we feel good about that, and we'll see how he comes through."
Markkanen is roughly five-and-a-half weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timetable, but Boylen said last week he was close to being cleared for contact — going through practice with Windy City is a positive development in that context. Wendell Carter Jr. (who will start again tonight on a minutes restriction), Denzel Valentine and Porter have now all returned to the Bulls' rotation shortly after practicing with Windy City.
But every rose has its thorn. On a more somber note, Boylen added that Zach LaVine is doubtful for the Mavericks game with a strained left quad that bothered him during the team's last game, a loss to the Knicks. LaVine is one of three Bulls (along with Tomas Satoransky and Coby White) to play in all 60 games this season, and has often stated a goal of playing in all 82.
"He's fighting it. Zach wants to play. and he's fighting it," Boylen said. "But we dont take chances with our guys. And I love his goals. I want him to attain all of his goals, but we'll do the right thing."
The Bulls will certainly need all the bodies they can muster against the Mavs, who boast the top-rated offense in the NBA. Noteworthy from the visitor's injury report: Kristaps Porzingis (knee) is out, Luka Doncic (thumb) is probable and Seth Curry (back) is questionable.
The Bulls faced the Mavericks with Doncic but without Porzingis in Dallas back on Jan. 6 (the game Carter sprained his ankle). The Mavericks prevailed 118-110 behind a 38-point triple-double from Doncic.