Bulls lose to Trail Blazers
"We played hard and competed and tried to play the right way." - Coach Jim Boylen
And then there was one.
Robin Lopez might want to have someone hold his hand going up steps for a few days.
That's because with the Bulls' 118-98 loss Wednesday to the Portland Trailblazers, the Bulls oldest player is essentially the lone rotation regular from the start of the season still playing with six games left in the ill-fated 2018-19 season.
The Bulls announced after the game that Lauri Markkanen, who had to stay overnight in Toronto Tuesday after suffering what the Bulls described as extreme fatigue and rapid heart beat, would not return this season. Bulls Vice-president of Basketball Operations John Paxson said testing was normal. Markkanen will be reevaluated in 10 to 14 days, and thus will not play these last two weeks.
Markkanen finishes his second season with averages of 18.7 points and nine rebounds, though in just 52 games. He averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds as a rookie.
Rookies Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison already were declared out for the season with injuries. Otto Porter Jr., acquired in the February trade for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, likely won't play again this season after sustaining a shoulder injury. Zach LaVine remained out with knee issues and Kris Dunn with a back problem. Though Bulls coach Jim Boylen said before Wednesday's game that he hoped they would play, it now seems less likely with the Bulls 21-55.
You've got some of our core guys out right now. But it's the NBA. The next guy is the reason why these guys are on a roster, the reason why I'm on a roster.
It provides a perhaps fitting bookend for a disappointing season because Markkanen, Portis, Dunn and Denzel Valentine, the latter who was out all season, missed most of the first two months of the season. Those absences with LaVine and Lopez trying to keep the NBA wolves at bay blew the doors off the season with a 5-19 start that resulted in the dismissal of Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. Boylen replaced Hoiberg, but the Bulls fell to 12-42 before bricking up their house with the addition of Porter. The Bulls won seven of 12 with a high powered offensive game until bitten again by the injury wolf.
"(Markkanen's) tests from his fatigue episode during the first half in Toronto came back all positive, but we're gonna be as cautious with him and that incident the best we can these last 10 days," said Boylen. "Obviously, we're disappointed for him and for us. But we're hopeful that he'll be just fine."
Added Paxson in a statement: "The long term health of our players is always our organization's top priority. We will continue to monitor Lauri's condition and work with our medical staff and doctors to provide him with everything he may need."
And so in the second of a back to back after the Tuesday loss in Toronto against one of the Western Conference's top teams, the Bulls started with Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Wayne Selden Jr., Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson.
Sampson was scheduled to play with the Windy City Bulls in their elimination playoff game in Westchester, N.Y. Wednesday. But with so many injuries, Sampson and fellow G-league two-way player Rawle Alkins were with the Bulls. The rest of the available roster was Cristiano Felicio, Timothy Luwawu-Cabarrot and Ryan Arcidiacono. Windy City lost despite 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from Walt Lemon Jr. as the Knicks' affiliate also employed two-way players who were with the Knicks. But Sampson and Alkins weren't complaining since days in the NBA earn the two-way players about 10 times as much as a day in the G-league.
"That was a heartbreaker for me," Boylen said pregame."There's nothing like a playoff experience to go through. So I talked to Coach (Charlie) Henry and I talked to John (Paxson) about it and we thought it was very important to have those guys be a part of that experience. But with what's transpired throughout the week here, we thought it was more important for them to be with us. I'm disappointed they're not going to get (the G-league playoff experience), but I'm thankful they're with us.'
Harrison led the Bulls with a career high 21 points and added 10 rebounds for his second career double/double. Selden had his first with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Lopez and Felicio each scored 15 points, Felicio equalling his season high with his fourth double digit scoring game in the last five games. Arcidiacono added 12 points.
But the Trailblazers, 47-27, even coming off the devastating injury earlier this week to starting center Jusuf Nurkic were too strong for the Bulls despite Damian Lillard scoring just 11 points on three of 12 shooting. With Seth Curry off the beach scoring 20 points, the Trailblazers jumped on the Bulls for a 27-14 first quarter lead as the Bulls shot 24 percent and were one of eight on threes. Lopez kept the Bulls at least treading water with 13 second quarter points to match Curry. Though the Bulls trailed 59-41 at halftime. Portland extended it's lead to 87-61 late in the third quarter. The Bulls did get the deficit down to 16 with a 10-0 early fourth quarter run.
"Shaq Harrison played well, Cristiano Felício played well," said Boylen. "I thought we competed. We lost the first quarter by 14. I thought that was kind of the difference in the game. We battled in the second and battled in the third. We won the fourth. We lost the board game by one. Obviously, we didn't finish plays at the rim and didn't make enough of those plays. But I liked the way we drove the ball and competed at the rim. I thought Brandon and Rawle did a nice job of competing and trying. And our other guys were Bulls tonight. They played hard and competed and tried to play the right way."
For players like Harrison, whom the Bulls claimed on waivers from Phoenix early in the season, it's a chance to at least continue an NBA career in matching his career points high and setting a high in rebounds.
"It's definitely uplifting because (you) put in the work and you can see it manifests out there on the court," said Harrison. "Unfortunately didn't get the win today with the career high, but I'll take it. You've got some of our core guys out right now. But it's the NBA. The next guy is the reason why these guys are on a roster, the reason why I'm on a roster. When your time is called, it's time to step up. And you can't really complain. It's not just one team looking at you. It's 29 other teams looking at you. So you gotta leave a good impression on other teams as well."
The Bulls—whomever is left—hope to do that these last few games of a trying season.
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