Saturday, July 2, 2022

Alex Caruso makes his long-awaited return for the Chicago Bulls, but Zach LaVine sits out with knee discomfort

The Chicago Bulls dealt with good and bad news ahead of Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers as injuries continue to make and break the team.

The good: Alex Caruso returned to the lineup after a two-month absence because of a right wrist fracture caused by a Grayson Allen foul in the Jan. 21 game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The bad: Zach LaVine sat out for the fourth time in the last month as he continues to battle “discomfort” in his left knee, rekindling concerns about how much the starting guard can contribute in the final stretch of the season.

LaVine’s loss cast a pall over the team on a day the Bulls had been awaiting through months of defensive slippage, highlighted by a starting drop from a top-10 to 21st defensive standing. But Caruso still offered the Bulls a much-needed spark after they finally snapped a five-game skid Wednesday.

Caruso’s playing time was will be limited to a loose window of 24 to 30 minutes. Donovan said the restriction served to ease the guard back into full-speed fitness rather than protect his wrist, which is fully healed.

“He’s still got to get some strength back, but it’s not at a place where he’s at any risk,” Donovan said. “(The medical staff) feel very comfortable where he’s at, and really it came down to seeing how he was feeling after shootaround (Saturday).”

The injuries to Caruso, Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams became a talisman for the Bulls throughout the skid that ended this week in Detroit. But Donovan warned that Caruso might need time to make the impact of the Bulls are used to receiving from the scrappy secondary guard.

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Between the wrist fracture, a foot sprain and a bout with COVID-19, Caruso played only 28 of the first 66 games this season.

“The one thing that’s been difficult is it’s just been really choppy for him,” Donovan said. “He’s really been out for a long period of time. Getting him back gives you a jolt, there’s no question about that, but I just don’t know where he’s at. He hasn’t played in so long.”

Any excitement around Caruso’s return was dulled slightly by the resurgence of LaVine’s knee discomfort after several weeks of relief.

Caruso is a key defensive player and an invaluable leader on the bench and the court. But LaVine is the team’s heartbeat, and he hasn’t been the same since the start of the year because of lingering knee irritation.

The left knee has been a point of concern for LaVine since he tore an ACL with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017. He began to feel tightness in the knee in January, sitting out of games sporadically before finally flying to California to receive cortisone and platelet- rich plasma injections before All-Star weekend.

Donovan repeatedly emphasizes the injury is causing “discomfort” rather than pain, but LaVine is wary to play whenever tightness reduces his range of mobility. He receives daily guidance from a team of doctors, which includes the specialist who performed his ACL surgery in 2017.

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Donovan previously floated the possibility of resting LaVine when the Bulls are scheduled to play back-to-backs to manage his workload, but the guard powered through the first consecutive pair of games last week in losses to the Atlanta Hawks and Bucks.

Resting on back-to-back games isn’t far from an anomaly in the NBA, but LaVine’s absence Saturday raises a more pressing concern. LaVine didn’t practice or play Thursday or Friday, then didn’t participate in shootaround Saturday morning. But even with that rare amount of rest, he still didn’t feel steady enough to play against the Cavaliers.

Although Donovan said there’s no reason to sound alarms over the injury, the uncertainty of LaVine’s availability will color the rest of the season.

“The feeling was to see if we can get him back down to ground zero where he’s feeling a little bit better,” Donovan said. “It’s not one of these things where we’ve mapped out what we’re doing. … It’s got to be almost going day to day just to see how he’s feeling. I don’t know if it’s necessarily concerning or not with the fact that he’s had two days. It’s just that there’s some discomfort there.”

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Nation World News Desk
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