Chicago Bulls

Bulls getting healthier with opportunistic stretch of schedule

As of Dec. 31, opponents' winning percentage of .402 marked NBA's easiest January schedule

Alex Caruso hopes to return from missing one game with neck soreness.

Alex Caruso, who missed Friday's victory over the Charlotte Hornets, participated in the Chicago Bulls' non-contact practice Sunday at the Advocate Center.

Patrick Williams, who sat out Friday with his lingering right ankle soreness, didn't and is listed as questionable for Monday's game in his hometown of Charlotte.

There's also the matter of Torrey Craig, still out with his right plantar fascia injury.

But with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević returning Friday and coach Billy Donovan hoping their minutes restrictions are loosened more each game until they're eliminated, the Bulls are getting healthy at the right time.

"The way they responded was positive," Donovan said of LaVine and Vučević. "Each game you hope to be able to elevate their minutes a little bit more each time."

The Bulls are in no position to point to any game on the schedule and circle it as a victory. But they entered January with, at the time, the NBA's easiest schedule for the month in terms of opponent winning percentage. And while 10 of the 15 games are away from the United Center, the Bulls only have three sets of back-to-back games.

Their opponents' winning percentage of .402 as of December 31 ranked well below that of the 29th-easiest schedule, the .443 that Cleveland faces. The Bulls are off to a 1-2 start but won the one with LaVine and Vučević back in the lineup.

"The ball is going to find Zach and Vooch," Donovan said. "The thing that was encouraging about the last game is we were good in transition. We were out. The force of which we were coming down the floor was really good."

Indeed, the Bulls posted 25 fast-break points against Charlotte and finished with 29 assists. That's another example of the improved ball movement that has defined the Bulls' improved play of late.

And Caruso thinks it can get even better.

"They looked rusty and that's kind of expected," Caruso said of LaVine and Vučević. "I can feel for them because I've been in that position. Two years ago, missing six weeks with my wrist and then coming back, it feels foreign. But for the most part, I thought they did well. We pretty much picked up back in the schemes of the stuff we've been trying to do."

Caruso said he actually thought the Bulls were better defensively than offensively against Charlotte. And the Bulls still shot over 50 percent with five players in double figures.

"We've had stretches where we've played really good as a team when everybody is out there," Caruso said. "There's no reason with those two guys, who have each been in the league for a decade-plus, we can't do what we want to do. It's nothing out of their capabilities."

As for Caruso, he said his neck soreness began on Dec. 26 when he stole the ball and dove into Trae Young's leg as he went to the floor to retrieve it. A physical set of back-to-back games against the 76ers and Knicks pushed him into idle mode for what he hopes is a one-game absence.

"The training staff has been taking care of me and I've been resting a lot," Caruso said. "It feels good to be back on the court (Sunday)."

If Caruso is on the court Monday, that only can help the Bulls as they enter an opportunistic stretch of their schedule.

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