CHICAGO — After 10 consecutive losses, the Chicago Bulls finally found a way to finish off a victory. Whether they can return on short rest to record back-to-back wins for the first time this season now becomes the question.
The Bulls needed overtime to end their lengthy losing streak on Friday when they outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 119-111. Chicago (4-20) returns home to face the New York Knicks Saturday and does so closer to full strength as the Bulls finally got forward Nikola Mirotic back from injury.
Mirotic made his season debut Friday and scored six points on 2-of-7 shooting after missing 23 games with facial fractures and a concussion sustained in a fight in practice with teammate Bobby Portis.
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Now, back in the win column for the first time since Nov. 17, the Bulls will attempt to drop the Knicks (12-12) back under .500. New York hasn’t played since beating Memphis on Wednesday and faces Chicago in the first of back-to-back games before the Knicks return home Sunday to play Atlanta.
The Bulls continue to get stellar play from rookie Lauri Markkanen, who registered his seventh double-double Friday. Markkanen scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and connected on critical 3-point field goals at the end of regulation and overtime to finish off the Bulls’ victory.
“We’ve had a couple tough losses lately and to be able to put them behind and pull this one off, it tells a lot about this team,” Markkanen said Friday. “Of course, we wanted to go home a little earlier, but we just kept fighting.”
Markkanen has been at the center of opponents’ game planning, which coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters wasn’t the case when the season first started. But after proving himself a valuable scorer over his first 24 games, the secret’s out.
“When other teams are putting their game plans together he’s number one as far as how they’re going to guard him, how they’re going to play him,” Hoiberg said Friday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s demanding a lot of attention. It’s either switching or blitzing almost every time.”
Markkanen is no stranger to the Knicks, who contemplated drafting the Finnish rookie in this year’s NBA Draft. Markkanen was selected seventh overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who traded him to Chicago as part of the deal for Jimmy Butler.
Ahead of the draft, the Knicks considered Markkanen as speculation grew that they would deal Kristaps Porzingis. Instead, New York stuck with Porzingis, who will play his second game after returning from an ankle sprain Wednesday against the Grizzlies.
Porzingis told reporters this week he was aware that Markkanen was on the Knicks’ radar last summer as a possible replacement should Porzingis have been dealt.
“Maybe it was the plan,” Porzingis said, according to Newsday. “But I’m happy I’m still here.”
As Porzingis prepares for his second game back, the Knicks are still without Tim Hardaway, Jr., who is expected to miss another two weeks with a stress injury in his lower left leg.
With Hardaway still on the mend, Porzingis doesn’t expect his ankle to keep him out this weekend against the NBA’s two worst teams starting Saturday against the Bulls.
“I definitely want to play,” Porzingis said, according to Newsday. “Especially now, I’ve been out four or five days. I didn’t do anything and guys are playing. I’m looking forward to this back-to-back.”