Fresh off of eight days of rest for the NBAs All-Star break, the Chicago Bulls will see some familiar faces return in their Thursday night matchup with the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers.
Rob Schaefer of NBC Sports reported on Wednesday night that both Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen were progressing towards a return, with Thursday night’s game pegged as a possibility.
He followed that up with the news that both had been upgraded to ‘available’ just hours before tip-off:
Neither forward has played since the beginning of February, with Porter Jr. having sat out due to back issues, and Markkanen being sidelined due to a shoulder contusion.
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Porter Jr. and Markkanen Will Be on a Restriction
Head coach Billy Donovan told Schaefer and other reporters that there will be “some kind of restriction,” albeit undecided just yet, for both Markkanen and Porter Jr. in Thursday night’s game.
Combined, the two forwards have both missed the last 13 games, with Porter Jr. having missed two prior to that, too. Thursday night’s matchup against a 76ers team without Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid should provide a good opportunity for both players to feel out the floor and shake off any rust.
Chicago will play the second night of their back-to-back on Friday, but it’s unclear whether fans should expect either Markkan or Porter Jr. to play given the probable need for conditioning and proper rest between games.
Are the Stars Aligning for a Playoff Run, or a Trade?
The Bulls are getting two key contributors back on the floor at what few would argue is a perfect time. Chicago is 16-18, the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, and looking to maintain relevance in the playoff picture.
Having both Porter Jr. and Markkanen back should only aid their push for playoffs. The Bulls have only had both healthy and available for 10 games this season. Despite their having won just four in that span, there should still be optimism around this news, given LaVine’s rise to All-Star, and Young’s play as of late.
If nothing else, Porter Jr. and Markkanen may be coming back to audition for potential trade suitors ahead of the NBA’s March 25 trade deadline. Neither player is considered a lock to be on the roster next season, with the former slated to be an unrestricted free agent, and the latter headed for restricted free agency.
Otto Porter Jr.’s played 16 games this year and is averaging 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds this year and shooting 40 percent from behind the arc. Lauri Markkanen’s posting a career-high 19.1 points and 6.1 rebounds over 14 appearances this year, and is also having a good year from the three-point line behind a 39 percent shooting average.
Now that both are back, the Chicago Bulls should be considered an even larger threat to berth the postseason for the first time since 2017.