Central Notes: Haliburton, Bulls Injuries, Phillips, Lillard

When Tyrese Haliburton returned on January 19 from a five-game absence due to a left hamstring strain, he played 35 minutes, then immediately returned to the inactive list. Following another five-game layoff due to that troublesome hamstring, the Pacers are taking a more cautious approach with their star point guard this time around, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.

Haliburton played only 22 minutes in his return in Boston on Tuesday, including just six in the second half. Head coach Rick Carlisle confirmed after the game that the All-Star is on a minutes restriction, which will likely continue at least through the rest of this week.

“It frustrates me,” Haliburton said. “I want to be on the floor. But it’s this organization’s job to protect me from myself. I’m a competitor. I want to compete, but I understand it at the end of the day. … I think that everybody wants to be safe and keep me on the floor as much as they can.”

The Pacers’ goal for Haliburton is to keep him on the court for as many games as possible the rest of the way, not just to improve their odds of a playoff berth in the East, but to ensure that he has a chance to earn All-NBA honors, which would increase the value of his five-year, maximum-salary extension by more than $40MM. Players must appear in at least 65 regular season games to qualify for end-of-season awards such as All-NBA.

Haliburton has already missed 13 games this season and fell short of the required 15-minute minimum in a 14th, but he essentially earned a bonus game toward his required 65 when the Pacers qualified for the in-season tournament final. That game doesn’t count toward the regular season results, but it will count toward Haliburton’s game total, Scott Agness of Fieldhouse Files confirms. That means the 23-year-old could miss up to four more contests this season and still be eligible for an All-NBA spot.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times passes along some injury updates on the Bulls, writing that Zach LaVine continues to deal with foot discomfort, while Dalen Terry is receiving treatment on a sprained ankle that kept him out of Wednesday’s game in Charlotte. However, head coach Billy Donovan said the Bulls are optimistic Terry will be back “relatively soon” and believe Torrey Craig is also “very close” to returning from the right foot injury that has sidelined him since mid-December.
  • Even once Craig is available, the Bulls may continue relying on rookie forward Julian Phillips for rotation minutes, at least until Patrick Williams is ready to return from his own foot injury. Donovan is confident that Phillips, who has averaged 18.3 minutes in the past three games, can handle the increased responsibilities, per Annie Constabile of The Chicago Sun-Times. “I give him credit for keeping himself ready and giving us a really good boost off the bench,” Donovan said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him in terms of the way he has worked to prepare himself to get in there. Anytime somebody scores and makes some shots, it always looks good, but I also thought his activity was really good, as well.”
  • While Damian Lillard didn’t pick up a win in his return to Portland on Wednesday night, the Bucks guard is getting more comfortable in Milwaukee after a relocation process he described as “unsettling.” Jamal Collier of ESPN has the story and the quotes from Lillard.
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