Markkanen continues hot shooting in return from injury


At least Lauri Markkanen's shot was falling.

That's about the only positive from a moribund night for the Bulls that featured a 127-105 drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers playing without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

"He made some shots tonight, which was good to see," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "And I think he found his rhythm a little bit there offensively."

Markkanen, in his first action since Feb. 5 after missing 13 games with a shoulder sprain, played 28 minutes and scored a team-high 23 points, shooting a sterling 7-for-7 from 3-point range to move his season-long success rate from behind the arc to 43.5 percent.

Multiple of those makes came flying off screens as the Bulls looked to get him involved and reintegrated offensively. It's Markkanen's seventh 20-point outing in 15 appearances.

"I felt alright," Markkanen said. "Physically, obviously there’s still just getting my wind back and my legs back into game shape. I had a couple practices, so it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I felt alright. Still got a ways to go, but not too bad.”

Outside of his sharp shooting, Markkanen pulled down 4 rebounds and didn't attempt a free throw, canning 1 of 4 from 2-point range. Though he blocked one shot, he also had some tough defensive moments amid a team-wide performance Donovan said featured "major steps backwards" on that end.

The 76ers did, after all, notch 78 points in the paint without Embiid's dominant presence.

"We couldn’t finish the possession, offensive rebounds," Markkanen said, referencing the 76ers' 13 offensive boards and 23 second-chance points. "Got to give them credit too. But I think the pick-and-roll defense, we got to be better just guarding our own guy I guess, just helping each other and being one unit."

Markkanen didn't play on a precise minutes restriction, though Donovan said he would monitor Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr.'s (who returned from a 15-game, back injury-induced absence to play 18 minutes) physical response and coordinate playing time accordingly. Markkanen said rest days or other limitations moving forward haven't been discussed.

"I’m preparing to play every single game," he said.

Donovan praised Markkanen for the level to which he maintained his conditioning while out (given the fact that his injury was one of the upper body variety).

"I think that was probably a big part of why he was able to shoot the ball well. I think it's really hard to shoot the ball particularly well when you don't have your legs under you," Donovan said.

Still, the team's end result leaves a sour taste out of the break. As the Bulls look to right the ship in a grueling seven-games-in-11-nights span, Donovan put it well when asked about the challenges of reinstalling Markkanen and Porter after their extended absences.

"There’s going to be some maybe getting reacquainted and developing chemistry and we’re going to have to be able to do some of those things," he said. "But those guys are good players. I’d rather have them healthy and playing than not."

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