Central Notes: Markkanen, Burks, Pachulia, Bulls

Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen made his season debut on Saturday against the Rockets, seeing 25 minutes of action off the bench for the first time since suffering an elbow sprain in September.

Markkanen, 21, is a key cog in the Bulls’ young core, and the team was 5-18 without him this season. He struggled shooting the ball on Saturday and finished 4-14 from the field, a clear sign of rust from the extended time on the sidelines.

“I felt good,” Markkanen said after the game, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. “I had no problems with my elbow, so that’s a positive. Missed some easy shots, but I think I played decent defense. I just gotta get my legs back.”

Aside from his shooting, Markkanen grabbed four rebounds, recorded a steal, one block and two fouls against the Rockets. It’s unclear how long he’ll come off the bench, with the likes of Jabari Parker and Wendell Carter Jr. starting ahead of him in the frontcourt.

“We will be careful with his minutes,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ll have constant communication while he’s on the floor to see if he needs a break to get his wind. But he’s done a great job of preparing himself for this moment with all the work he has done.

“Everybody is excited to have him back. He has a great skill set. He can do a lot on the floor. He demands a lot of attention to hopefully open up some driving lanes for some of our playmakers. He’ll have the ball in his hands some as well in facilitating.”

There’s more from the Central division today:

  • New Cavaliers guard Alec Burks played his first game with the team on Friday, scoring 15 points in 26 minutes off the bench. He followed this performance with a 13-point game on Saturday against the Raptors, proving his worth since being part of a Jazz-Cavs trade from last week. “Opportunity is everything in this league,” Burks said, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. “I feel like I have a great one here. Just trying to take advantage of it and help my new team win.”
  • Zaza Pachulia has provided a settling effect on the Pistons behind Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond this season, Ansar Khan of Mass Live writes. Pachulia, a former NBA champion, has averaged 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 12.7 minutes per game.
  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times believes the Bulls should follow the Cavaliers’ lead and explore trading players, explaining his thoughts in a new piece. Players such as Justin Holiday, Jabari Parker and Robin Lopez could register interest on the trade market.
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