NEW YORK — The Bulls have navigated 14 games without Wendell Carter Jr., their best interior defender. Now, they could be forced to make do without their best perimeter defender for a while.
Kris Dunn is scheduled to return to Chicago Saturday, where team physicians will evaluate the right knee injury he suffered just 13 seconds after tipoff in the Nets’ 133-118 blowout of the Bulls.
Coach Jim Boylen wouldn’t speculate on the severity of Dunn’s injury, which occurred when Thad Young’s head smashed into Dunn’s knee as Young took a charge from Joe Harris. But there was considerable concern emanating from the Bulls as they prepared to travel to Toronto without Dunn.
“It sucks man,” Zach LaVine said. “I always say the worst thing in sports is injuries. He plays through a lot. We already know his background, how tough-minded he is. It sucks seeing anybody get injured, but especially a good friend and someone who has been with me throughout the NBA so far.
“I think if our record is better, he’ll get more national coverage. I think he’s an All-League defender. He’s tops in steals. He guards the best player each night. Sometimes he takes him out, makes it tough for him. He has meant a lot for us. He’s the toughest dude on the team, not scared of anybody. He means a lot to us. It’s going to suck.”
It certainly did Friday night. Kyrie Irving is the type of talent that can go nuts on even the best defenders. But without Dunn, Irving carved up the Bulls for 54 points on 19-for-23 shooting, including 7-for-9 from 3-point range. Irving’s output marked his season-high and an opponent season-high against the Bulls.
“He made 3s, contested 3s. That got him going,” Boylen said. “Early, I thought we needed to pick him up higher. We didn’t. He got into a groove. And sometimes it’s hard to break a guy out of a groove.”
Irving produced his prodigious output in just 32 minutes. And his 82.6 percent shooting marked the highest percentage in a 50-point game since Michael Jordan shot 82.8 percent while scoring 52 points on Nov. 16, 1988.
That’s a long time ago.
“We’ve been a very good defensive team. We’re going to continue to work at being a good defensive team,” Boylen said. “We’ll coach our guys to maintain that. That’s what we do.”
The Bulls whittled a 21-point deficit to six points early in the fourth. But in shooting 62.5 percent while making 50 field goals, the Nets posted Bulls’ opponent season-highs in those two categories as well as points.
LaVine said he offered some words of encouragement to Dunn at halftime, when the Bulls were getting their “ass whooped.” LaVine paused.
“It didn’t change a lot by the end of the game,” he said.
If Dunn faces an extended absence, the Bulls may have to get used to more defensive efforts like this one. Beyond that, a possible extended absence on top of all the other injuries could force management to view the remainder of this season differently.
The Bulls are now 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, and their closing schedule is brutal.
LaMelo Ball, the possible No. 1 pick in this June’s draft, watched the proceedings from a baseline seat. The third season of the rebuild was supposed to bring relevancy. Could it again bring chasing dreams in the form of draft lottery ping-pong balls?