Central Notes: Caruso, DeRozan, LeVert, Bey

Bulls guard Alex Caruso admits he’s still not 100 percent healthy yet after returning from a fractured right wrist that sidelined him for 22 games, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

It just gets hit, banged up a little bit. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just sore. It’s just going to take time,” Caruso said. “We took a very aggressive rehab schedule and ramp-up schedule so I could get back with the team and try to play. It just kind of comes with the territory.

I’m not 100 percent. I’m not going to lie to you. But it’s moreso just the rhythm of the game. Try not to make excuses, but that seven weeks is tough. I didn’t get any practices or anything. Just right back in the game. I got high standards for how I want to play, how I want the team to play. And I don’t think I’m doing my part as well I can right now, which is frustrating.”

Johnson notes the Bulls were a strong defensive team at the beginning of the season with both Caruso and Lonzo Ball healthy, but have slipped to 18th in the league in defensive rating following their injuries. The Bulls are just 2-7 in their last nine games, including consecutive road losses in Sacramento and Utah, where they gave up 112 and 125 points, respectively.

At 41-28, the Bulls are currently the fifth seed in the East. They have a difficult remaining schedule, with 11 of their last 13 games against teams vying for the play-in or the playoffs.

Here are a few more notes from the Central Division:

  • DeMar DeRozan‘s influence on the Bulls is similar to the way Chris Paul has impacted winning throughout his career, Johnson writes in a separate article for NBC Sports Chicago. Coach Billy Donovan has coached both players and compared their leadership qualities. “They’re two totally different players, two totally different people,” Donovan said. “But the impact that Chris made that I saw in Oklahoma and now seeing the impact that DeMar made, you can just see how they’ve kind of galvanized the group and they’ve got everybody together. It’s because of how humble they are, how team-oriented they are, how competitive they are and how much they both want to win.” For his part, DeRozan says he’s just focused on the grind. “I try to be the same person every day and carry that over to my teammates and to my work,” DeRozan said. “That’s how I lead.”
  • Kelsey Russo of The Athletic details how Caris LeVert has been acclimating to the Cavaliers. LeVert, who recently returned from a nine-game absence after suffering a sprained foot, admits it was difficult dealing with the injury, but he’s enjoying his time in Cleveland. “It’s been fun for me, to be honest with you,” LeVert said. “I try to look at it as a positive challenge for me; it’s just getting better. I know we’re playing for something, playing for the playoffs or playing for a championship. So that’s what gets me going in every morning.”
  • Second-year forward Saddiq Bey helped the Pistons snap a four-game losing streak on Thursday by scoring a career-high 51 points, writes Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press. Bey became the seventh Piston to score 50-plus in a game and tied Hall of Famer Joe Dumars‘ franchise record with 10 threes made (on 14 attempts), Sankofa notes. Bey finished with an eye-popping 51 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals on 17-of-27 shooting in the team’s 134-120 victory over Orlando.
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