Bulls

Somehow Las Vegas doesn't believe the Bulls will improve on last year's win total

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USA TODAY

Somehow Las Vegas doesn't believe the Bulls will improve on last year's win total

Year 1 of the Bulls rebuild was a combination of missed games, midseason trades, benchings in favor of younger players and - let's admit it - a little bit of tanking.

Cris Felicio averaged 24.2 minutes per game after the All-Star break.

The end result was a 27-win season, the 7th most NBA Lottery ping-pong balls and, all things considered, a positive outlook on the rebuild. After yet another successful offseason the Bulls are trending upward, especially in an Eastern Conference that just lost LeBron James to Los Angeles.

But Las Vegas isn't buying it.

Westgate sportsbook released their over-under win totals for the 2018-19 season, and the Bulls are peculiarly sitting at 27.5.

Let's make a quick list of everything that happened last season that got the Bulls to 27 wins:

Kris Dunn missed 30 games. Zach LaVine missed nearly 60 games. Even Lauri Markkanen missed 14 games.

Yes, Nikola Mirotic was single-handedly responsible for that wild eight-game winning streak before he was traded in February. But the Bulls played at a 24-win pace AFTER the Mirotic deal (9-22). And that was with the missed games from their core, and Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday sitting a large portion of those games.

The team also added Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison, two rookies who figure to see time, and Jabari Parker. Defensive issues aside, the Bulls are a better team with Parker in the fold. Their only real loss from a year ago is David Nwaba. He'll be missed defensively but doesn't exactly move the needle in terms of the Bulls' season outlook.

Even with a most pessimistic outlook, the Bulls will be better than they were a year ago. Even something as small as playing the LeBron-less Cavs four times will make a difference (the Bulls were swept by James last season).

This seems like an easy hit on the over for the Bulls.

Bulls notebook: Lauri Markkanen participates in non-contact portion of practice

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USA TODAY

Bulls notebook: Lauri Markkanen participates in non-contact portion of practice

Lauri Markkanen's timeline back from his elbow sprain remains the same, but he took the next step toward getting back on the court by participating in the non-contact portion of practice on Monday.

Markkanen was seen getting shots up with the team as Monday's practice began. This comes after Markkanen shed the brace he wore for the first month after suffering the injury

"We’re excited to have him out there," Fred Hoiberg said. "We’ll see how he responds and if we can up his activity level after that."

Friday marked the seven-week point since Markkanen initially suffered the elbow injury on Sept. 28. His initial timeframe, 6 to 8 weeks, was bumped up to 8 to 10 weeks, so the second year forward appears to be on track to debut sometime in early December.

Whenever he does return - Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine are still much farther away - he'll help a Bulls team in desparate need of his scoring, playmaking and athleticism. The 4-13 Bulls have lost four straight by a combined 93 points and Zach LaVine is battling an illness (but said he'll play Wednesday against Phoenix).

"I think a lot about that," Hoiberg said when asked about how Markkanen will be implemented into the offense. "I thought a lot about it in the offseason. He’s such a versatile player and with the added strength and added size, it’s something I think you can do a lot more of.

Last year, (opponents) switched a lot. We ran a lot of high-low type actions. Hopefully, we’ll be more effective this year with (Markkanen's) added size and bulk."

Markkanen's return will help a Bulls offense currently ranked 29th in efficiency. He'll also help LaVine, who after a red-hot start has seen his efficiency plummet to the tune of 36 percent from the field and 24 percent from deep the last eight games.

"I see him working out, running and getting his shots in. Hopefully his elbow’s feeling a lot better," LaVine said. "He’s one of the main key pieces in this organization. He’s such a sensational player on the offensive end and it helps out defensively as well. I can’t wait to have him back."

NOTES

G-League wing Rawle Alkins will practice the next two days with the Bulls but won't stay with the team when they're back in action Wednesday against the Suns.

Alkins, an Arizona sophomore who went undrafted in 2018, is averaging 12.9 points and 5.2 rebounds with the Windy City Bulls. Last week he scored 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting and eight rebounds in a win over the Grand Rapids Drive. For now he'll give the NBA Bulls a much-needed extra body in practice.

"He’s a good defender, a tough kid. We’re excited to have him here, help us out with practice," Hoiberg said.

Alkins likely won't see any time in the NBA this season - the Bulls are as shorthanded as they're going to be all year and he still hasn't been called up - but he's a nice developmental piece at a low cost.

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For one night in the Hoiberg household, Fred wasn't basketball's biggest name.

His son, Jack, scored his first two collegiate points in Michigan State's 101-33 victory over Tennessee State on Sunday night.

Jack, a walk-on for the Spartans, connected on both free throw attempts in the final seconds that put the Spartans over the century mark.

Fred messaged his son after the game congratulating him and also said that, depsite the score, the free throws couldn't have been easy.

"To shoot a free throw for that 100th point, it’s not easy," Fred said. "I remember the first time I had that opportunity here. It was free tacos for everybody if I made that. Thankfully, I made it. So for him to step up and knock that down, it was fun to see. You want to see your kids happy and having fun. That’s what I saw."

Did Lauri Markkanen just troll Donald Trump?

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@MARKKANENLAURI

Did Lauri Markkanen just troll Donald Trump?

Lauri Markkanen remains undefeated on Twitter.

Sunday, Markkanen tweeted a photo that seems to be an attempt to troll President Donald Trump. Take a look:

Look at that sly smile. The photo seems relatively harmless, but it's clear that Markkanen is trolling Trump based on the president's comments regarding the devastating California wildfires. From The New York Times:

“You look at other countries where they do it differently and it’s a whole different story,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference in Paradise, Calif., on Saturday. “I was with the president of Finland and he said: ‘We have a much different — we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don’t have any problem.”

In addition to the obvious rake reference, Markkanen, of course, is Finnish. All jokes aside, Markkanen used the tweet to promote donating to those affected by the wildfires. What a guy!