Bulls observations: Bulls fall to Timberwolves in Lauri Markkanen's return


Lauri Markkanen returned to action, but the Bulls crashed back to earth with a 115-108 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. Some observations:

Lauri Markkanen is back

Lauri Markkanen returned to the Bulls’ starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 22 on a stated 18-20 minute restriction. He finished the night with 13 points and four rebounds on 6-for-10 shooting (1-for-4 from deep).

The start was predictably slow: Markkanen went scoreless on 0-for-2 shooting and one rebound in five first-quarter minutes. But the second stint was better — he had eight points in five second-quarter minutes on 4-for-6 shooting.

Markkanen checked out midway through the fourth quarter after logging 21 minutes on the night. He didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but looked comfortable and assertive enough moving throughout the game in limited action. Some rust was to be expected.

Coby White isn’t done yet

Fresh off earning Eastern Conference rookie of the month honors, Coby White kept the good times rolling against the Wolves. In 35 minutes, he tallied 26 points and six assists on an efficient 11-for-22 shooting, and almost single-handedly kept the Bulls’ offense afloat in the fourth quarter. That’s White’s 11th double-digit scoring outing in his last 12 games, and eighth 25-point game of the season.

White also continued to flash improvements in his defense and decision-making. Two of his six dimes came on sharp, decisive passes in transition that led to easy buckets. These two clips inspire confidence, too:

When the shots are falling, great. When he’s out and running on the break, superb. But those ancillary aspects of White’s game coming along are what’s going to tie everything together and push him to being a supremely valuable, all-around NBA player. His steady progress in the past month-and-a-half or so on those fronts is encouraging.

The Bulls are undergoing a midrange renaissance

Here’s a log of the Bulls’ midrange attempts from their last four games:

  • MARCH 4 @ TIMBERWOLVES: 11-15 (73.3%)

  • March 2 vs. Mavericks: 4-for-9 (44.4%)

  • Feb. 29 @ Knicks: 4-for-14 (28.6%)

  • Feb. 25 vs. Thunder: 11-for-19 (57.9%)

This from a team that entered play 26th in the NBA in midrange attempts per game (7.4) and percent of points from midrange (4.7%). Tonight, Wendell Carter Jr. notched four of his six points on successive jumpers from the elbow and just inside the free-throw line (that didn’t technically register as a midrange attempt, but basically was). White went 4-for-5 from midrange, looking comfortable on pull-ups from that area all night. Denzel Valentine (3-for-3) and Otto Porter Jr. (2-for-3) had a healthy diet of intermediary jumpers, too.

RELATED: Why the Bulls' loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was a statistical anomaly

Minnesota, meanwhile, took just one and canned 19 of their 43 3-pointers (the Bulls finished 11-for-30 from deep). No takes here. But this is an interesting, developing pattern that’s worth continuing to monitor. 

A return to reality

Monday’s comeback victory over the Mavericks was one of the Bulls’ best of the season. A 115-108 defeat at the hands of the now 19-42 Timberwolves on the second night of a back-to-back is a reintroduction to reality.

Porter followed up his blazing-hot return with a two-point 1-for-8 outing in 18 minutes. Carter, a game-low -14, still doesn’t look himself. The defense crashed back to earth — five Timberwolves finished in double-figures and eight canned 3-pointers. Naz Reid (16 points, 11 rebounds 3-for-3 from 3) logged his second career double-double in as many nights, Malik Beasley dropped 24 and D’Angelo Russell chipped in 19 points and four 3s.

Palpable excitement is mounting with core players returning from injury spells, but because guys need to be reintegrated steadily, Jim Boylen was still forced to go to a reserve-heavy (and guard-heavy) closing group of Tomas Satoransky, White, Shaq Harrison, Ryan Arcidiacono and Thad Young. We're not quite there yet.

We march back home to face the Pacers on Friday.

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