Central Notes: Lillard, Middleton, Mathurin, Pistons, Caruso

While there’s no indication that it’s a serious injury, Bucks guard Damian Lillard was ruled out of Thursday’s matchup with Indiana due to right calf soreness, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s the second game of a back-to-back for both teams, Owczarski notes.

In all likelihood, the Bucks are just being cautious with their major offseason acquisition. However, Lillard missed several games last season with a pair of right calf strains, so he does have a history of injuries in that area.

Cameron Payne received the starting nod at point guard with Lillard out.

On a more positive note, forward Khris Middleton returned to action after missing Wednesday’s game due to right knee injury management, Owczarski adds. Middleton continues to ramp up his activity following offseason knee surgery.

Here’s more from the Central:

  • After an impressive debut season which saw him earn a spot on the All-Rookie First Team, Bennedict Mathurin had been struggling — on both ends of the court — with the adjustment of being a full-time starter in 2023/24, according to Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. But the Pacers guard snapped out of his slump in Wednesday’s victory over Utah, recording 22 points (on 9-of-18 shooting), nine rebounds, four assists and two steals in 38 minutes. “I thought this was probably Benn’s best game in two years,” head coach Rick Carlisle said. “People want to see him shoot a bunch of shots and score a bunch of points, but that isn’t necessarily what wins. What wins is being a part of a system, doing your job within a system, taking the right shots within a system, running to the corner when your job is to run to the corner and making simple plays. I thought tonight he took some major steps.”
  • The Pistons started the season strong, going 2-1 and looking much improved after being the worst team in the NBA last season. However, they have since lost six straight games amid a tough schedule to sit with a 2-7 record. Turnovers, injuries and excessive fouls have been the main culprits for the losing streak, according to James L. Edwards III of The Athletic and Keith Langlois of Pistons.com. Still, there have been bright spots, with the strong play of rookies Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser particularly noteworthy, Edwards writes. And there’s reason to believe Detroit could start turning its close losses into wins if it gets some of its veteran shooters back healthy and fixes some of its preventable mistakes, says Langlois.
  • Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times argues the Bulls should insert Alex Caruso into the starting lineup, writing that the All-Defensive First Team guard can help mitigate the defensive lapses of the team’s “big three” while providing value on both ends of the court. “A hard worker who is going to do all he can for his teammates,” Suns star Kevin Durant said of Caruso. “That stuff right there (he does) makes up for a lot of mistakes. He’s a phenomenal player. I don’t want to even call him a role player; he’s a guy you can plug with any lineup and he will make the right reads and right plays on the defensive and offensive side and the Bulls are lucky to have him.” Chicago is being cautious with Caruso due to his all-out play-style, but Cowley thinks the Bulls need to make a change to right the ship after a 3-6 start.
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