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NBA: Bulls eager to return to action against Pacers

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There is a sense of cautious optimism surrounding the Chicago Bulls, who hope the worst of the team’s COVID outbreak is behind them.

The Bulls expect to be near full-strength when they face the visiting Indiana Pacers on Sunday, but coach Billy Donovan will be unavailable after entering the league’s health and safety protocols on Friday.

Bulls assistant Chris Fleming will serve as acting head coach against Indiana, which has won two of its last three games.

Chicago has had three games postponed this month due to COVID-related issues, including Wednesday’s contest against the Toronto Raptors.

Sunday’s game will mark the first time Chicago has had center Nikola Vucevic, forward DeMar DeRozan and guard Zach LaVine available at the same time in more than three weeks.

DeRozan missed three games due to the NBA’s COVID protocols before scoring 38 points in last Sunday’s 115-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. He then scored 26 in a 133-118 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday.

“These guys have been really great in dealing with not only what we’ve had to deal with, but what everybody’s had to deal with across the league,” Donovan said. “I really appreciate their professionalism and the way they’ve conducted themselves.”

Chicago has lost its last six home games against Indiana, which is hoping to have point guard Malcolm Brogdon (right achilles) and forward Domantas Sabonis (right calf) back in the lineup.

Both starters are listed as day-to-day after missing Thursday’s 118-106 win over the Houston Rockets.

Center Myles Turner, who has 17 blocks over his past five games, contributed 32 points and 10 rebounds in 37 minutes against the Rockets.

“Myles was sensational,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “His offensive decision making was on point. He hit a 3, he hit a couple of mid-range shots, he attacked the rim and made some nice touch passes. He only had two turnovers. He had a calm poise to us that helped us get through the third quarter.”

The Pacers also received a boost from Caris LeVert, who filled in for Brogdon at point guard and tallied 24 points and 11 assists.

“Caris has proven he’s a hell of a point guard,” Carlisle said. “Caris is a stone-cold attacker. He knows how to win. If you put the ball in his hands the way we did tonight, he makes really good plays.”

Indiana won the season’s first meeting against Chicago on Nov. 22, when Sabonis and Brogdon combined for 37 points in a 109-77 victory.

Chicago has won seven of its 11 games since then and holds the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference standings at 19-10.

Point guard Alex Caruso is expected to miss the next few games with a left foot sprain, suffered in Monday’s win over Houston. Caruso’s absence could provide extra opportunities for guard Alfonzo McKinnie.

The Chicago native, who was signed to a second 10-day contract last week, scored 16 points in 29 minutes off the bench against the Rockets.

“He’s a great guy,” Donovan said. “He can put it on the floor. He’s unselfish. And then he gives you a lot of length on the perimeter defensively. He’s fit in very well and has given us, at different points in time since he’s been here, a nice boost and versatility off the bench.”

–Field Level Media

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