Nikola Vucevic

Central Notes: Turner, Portis, Lillard, Vucevic, Bulls

The Pacers‘ blowout win over Brooklyn on Monday was marred to some extent by an injury sustained by starting center Myles Turner. As Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star writes, Turner dislocated his right index finger late in the first half. After shooting a pair of free throws left-handed, he headed to the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

Head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the victory that Turner underwent X-rays, which were negative, so the finger doesn’t appear to be fractured. However, it’s unclear whether the big man will be able to play through the injury or if he’ll have to miss some time.

Turner has started 72 of the Pacers’ first 76 games this season, averaging 16.8 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 27.1 minutes per night. Reserve center Isaiah Jackson started three of the four games Turner missed, while Jalen Smith subbed in for the other. Both Jackson and Smith would be candidates for increased roles if Turner is unavailable for any games going forward.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Bucks big man Bobby Portis has built a strong case for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season due to his versatility, energy, leadership, and strong production off the bench, argues Lori Nickel of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. However, as Nickel notes, the award has gone to a shooting guard in 11 of the last 12 years. “I’ve wanted to win it. I’ve been talking about it for, like, five years,” Portis said last week. “Yeah. But they never vote for me though. Because I’m a big man and it is not cool; they told me it’s more of a guard award.”
  • Damian Lillard has been ruled out for the Bucks‘ game in Washington on Tuesday due to a right groin strain, tweets Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Lillard also missed Sunday’s contest in Atlanta, though that was said to be for personal reasons.
  • Nikola Vucevic‘s three-point percentage has dipped noticeably in the first season of a three-year contract — his 28.6% mark is his worst since he started regularly attempting outside shots seven years ago. However, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times writes, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan praised the veteran center for his play this season and indicated he doesn’t believe the 33-year-old’s skills are diminishing. “He’s a consummate professional, he’s incredibly reliable, he’s durable, he’s available, which is the most important thing,” Donovan said. “I know he’s a much, much better shooter than he has shown this year. I really believe that.”
  • Despite losing to Atlanta on Monday, the Bulls clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference’s play-in tournament, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Even if they don’t win another game, the Bulls can’t finish worse than 36-46, while the 11th-place Nets can’t do better than 35-47.

Central Notes: Middleton, Vucevic, Craig, Gibson

Bucks wing Khris Middleton, out since Feb. 6 with an ankle injury, spoke to reporters for the first time since his injury, writes Jim Owczarski of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Middleton said he couldn’t think of a worse ankle sprain he’d had than this one in terms of the pain he’s experiencing.

After it happened I tried to play, run it off a little bit, see if it was going to loosen up or whatever. Just didn’t. Didn’t feel comfortable,” Middleton said. “Went into the back, tried to get re-taped, and as soon as I took my shoe off it just blew up. So had to shut it down.

He said the process of recovery has taken longer than he’s hoped, but that he has seen improvement. He also said he wouldn’t rule out playing on Milwaukee’s road trip that ends against Sacramento on March 12. The only obstacle left before Middleton is able to return is continued swelling, according to Owczarski.

Middleton knows he needs to play soon to be able to get back to normal form in time for the postseason. He began the year on a minutes restriction and has only played three games under Doc Rivers. With only 19 games remaining in the regular season, Middleton, who is averaging 14.8 points per game this season, is eager to get back into game action.

I want to get back out there,” Middleton said. “I need to be playing. I’ve been on a minute restriction most of the year so at this point I just need to be on the court. So, I’m fighting every day that I can.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Bulls coach Billy Donovan said Nikola Vucevic has been one of the team’s best defenders over the last three years, and the numbers back that claim up, writes Joe Cowley of Chicago Sun-Times. Vucevic consistently ranks among the team leaders in defensive rating, and Donovan likes the way he can utilize the 13th-year big man. “He’s not going to be as good as [Timberwolves center] Rudy Gobert in drop, but we felt comfortable switching with him in certain situations and putting him on different guys, and he understands how to gap and move his feet,” Donovan said. “He’s a smart defender. I would say he’s played very well for us defensively.
  • Bulls forward Torrey Craig, who hasn’t played since Feb. 14 and has played just six games since Dec. 16, made his return to the lineup against the Warriors on Thursday. According to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson (Twitter link), he was on a restriction of 12-to-16 minutes.
  • The Pistons signed Taj Gibson to a 10-day deal on Wednesday after he spent time with the Knicks earlier this season. Head coach Monty Williams explained the signing, saying that he envisions Gibson helping young players like Jalen Duren (Twitter link via The Athletic’s James L. Edwards III). “I just like having another veteran guy around our team,” Williams said, per Omari Sankofa II of Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). “You look at Evan [Fournier] and how he’s had an impact on the floor and some other areas. I told the guys how you approach your career can pay dividends down the road. He’s had a 15-year-career.

Bucks Notes: Giannis, Beverley, Portis, Gallinari, Galloway

Prior to Friday’s victory in Chicago, Bucks head coach Doc Rivers was asked why star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t generated a ton of Most Valuable Player buzz this season despite putting up some of the best numbers of his career. As Eric Nehm of The Athletic writes, Rivers suggested that voter fatigue may be a factor, given that Antetokounmpo has already won a pair of MVP awards.

“I don’t even want to get into it, but there’s been guys that you get tired of voting for,” Rivers said. Michael (Jordan) may be the poster child of that. And Giannis seems to be in that category; where you’re so good, everything you do is taken for granted. When you just look at his numbers, they’re incredible, and yet, you never hear his name. It’s unbelievable, but that’s a sign of respect more than disrespect in some ways.”

Not long after his coach made those comments, Antetokounmpo submitted one of his best all-around performances of the season, racking up 46 points (on 16-of-22 shooting), 16 rebounds, and six assists. He’s now averaging 30.8 PPG and 11.3 RPG, with a career-best 61.9% field goal percentage. His 6.3 assists per contest would also be career high, and Giannis appreciates that he’s getting some recognition for his play-making skills this season.

“I’ve become a more willing passer this year because my teammates are pretty freaking good, but I think I always could pass,” he said on Friday. “Coming into the league, that was my thing that separated me, but we didn’t have a lot of TV games, and a lot of people didn’t pay attention to Milwaukee. So, people see me do a pass now, it’s like, ‘Oh, he can pass!’ I’ve been passing. I’m the all-time assist leader in Milwaukee. ‘Oh, he can pass!’ Of course, I can pass.”

Here’s more on the Bucks:

  • The Bulls took exception to chippy play from Patrick Beverley, Bobby Portis, and the Bucks on Friday, with DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic both growing frustrated by non-calls and earning flagrant fouls of their own by retaliating, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. Rivers praised his team after the game for playing physically and aggressively without crossing any lines. “We have instigators, for sure,” Rivers said, per Nehm. “But it’s only good if you can do that and you don’t get caught up into it. And I thought tonight was right on the edge, and then we backed off.”
  • Danilo Gallinari has made a limited impact in his first five games as a Buck, scoring 10 total points on 3-of-12 shooting in nearly 48 minutes. However, Antetokounmpo likes what he has seen from his new frontcourt mate, according to Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops. “It is easy to play with Gallo. He is so smart,” Giannis said. “He has been around a long time. He knows how to play the game. … We know that he is capable of doing a lot of things for us offensively. Defensively, such a big body helps his defense with his length.”
  • Jaylin Galloway, the 21-year-old wing who is joining the Bucks on a two-way contract, just completed the first season of a three-year deal with the Sydney Kings. According to Olgun Uluc of ESPN (Twitter links), if Galloway wants to return to Australia’s National Basketball League after his two-year, two-way contract with the Bucks expires (or earlier, if he’s cut), that contract will essentially pick up where it left off, with Sydney holding his NBL rights for two more seasons.

Central Notes: Drummond, Bulls, Bucks, Connaughton, Pacers

Andre Drummond, who has been identified recently as the Bulls player most likely to be traded at the deadline, gave the team something to think about on Tuesday in what could end up being his last game in a Chicago uniform.

As K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes, Drummond started alongside fellow center Nikola Vucevic for the first time this season, with the Bulls looking to counter the size of the Timberwolves’ frontcourt duo of Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. He ultimately played 35 minutes and racked up 16 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocks in an impressive overtime win over Minnesota.

One of the NBA’s most reliable backup centers, Drummond has now shared the court with Vucevic for 54 minutes this season and the Bulls have posted a +14.3 net rating during that time, including outscoring the Wolves in their 25 minutes together on Tuesday.

Still, league sources tell Johnson that the Bulls have engaged in trade talks with multiple teams about the two-time All-Star, who says he’s not stressing Thursday’s deadline.

“I control what I can control,” Drummond said. “I’ve been doing this for 12 years. There’s nothing I can do about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, great. Either way, I’m going to continue to come in and do my job on a daily basis.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Head coach Billy Donovan suggested on Tuesday that while Zach LaVine‘s season-ending foot surgery might affect the Bulls‘ approach to the trade deadline, it shouldn’t significantly alter the club’s plans, per Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. “I did not get from (Bulls executives) Arturas (Karnisovas) or Marc (Eversley): ‘Hey, we were kind of going down this path, and now we’ve kind of had to course-correct and go here.’ That has not happened at all,” Donovan said. “I’m sure they have to look at that, right? Because the hope was that when (LaVine) did go out that second time with his foot that he would return, and that was the anticipation of everybody. I’m sure those guys are looking at all the scenarios.”
  • Eric Nehm of The Athletic provides an in-depth preview of the trade deadline from the Bucks‘ perspective, writing that the team’s top priority should be acquiring a point-of-attack defender. Nehm lays out a few hypothetical deals that could address that issue, with his proposed targets ranging from high-end (Dejounte Murray) to more modest (Kris Dunn).
  • A frequent subject of trade rumors as of late, Pat Connaughton was the Bucks‘ unlikely starter at point guard on Tuesday with Damian Lillard (left ankle sprain) unavailable, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I’m trying to build Pat’s confidence back,” new head coach Doc Rivers explained. “I don’t know if he’s lost it or not, but I just think he can help us and I’m trying to actually give him more minutes. In a normal thing I would probably play one of the other guys but I’m trying to get Pat going. I think he’s important for us later as well.”
  • The Pacers already completed a major in-season deal when they traded for Pascal Siakam last month, but they’re in position to make another move or two if they want to, according to Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star, who examines Indiana’s options and points out that the club could still benefit from a consolidation trade even after parting with multiple players for Siakam.

Eastern Rumors: Cavs, LaVine, Bulls, Celtics, Grimes

A source with knowledge of the Cavaliers‘ plans told Jason Lloyd of The Athletic on Monday night that the club is unlikely to be active at this week’s trade deadline.

That wouldn’t be a bad thing, according to Lloyd, who notes that Cleveland’s front office could turn to the buyout market in search of a depth addition later this month. The Cavs, who have moved into possession of the No. 2 seed in the East, have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams over the last two months, winning 19 of their past 23 games, including 14 of their past 15.

Here are a few more items from around the Eastern Conference:

  • The Bulls could technically still trade Zach LaVine this week despite his season-ending foot injury, but teams with interest will almost certainly prefer to wait until at least this summer to see how that foot is healing, per Tim Bontemps and Bobby Marks of ESPN. “We have red-flagged him until he gets back on the court,” one rival executive told ESPN.
  • A handful of Bulls veterans, including Nikola Vucevic, have expressed a desire for the team to roll with the pieces it has rather than buying or selling at the deadline, according to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “Those are things that are out of my control. We feel we have enough,” Vucevic said, adding that he likes it in Chicago and doesn’t want to go anywhere. “We have a lot of stuff we can do better on the court. We’ve also had some stuff, like injuries, that’s unfortunate to deal with. But I believe we have enough.”
  • Steve Bulpett of takes a look at how Boston will approach Thursday’s deadline, citing one source who thinks the Celtics should be careful not to “mess up what they have” and one rival executive who says the C’s aren’t being especially aggressive on the trade market. “They’re open to talking, but there’s no urgency there,” the exec said.
  • Given the injury bug that has plagued the team recently, the odds of the Knicks hanging onto Quentin Grimes through the trade deadline have increased, a source familiar with the situation tells Stefan Bondy of The New York Post (subscription required). If Grimes remains on the roster for the rest of this season, he could be a trade candidate again in the summer, when he’ll be extension-eligible.

Bulls Notes: Trade Deadline, LaVine, Williams, Ball

A few weeks ago, the Bulls seemed likely to be among the NBA’s most active teams heading into the trade deadline, but their recent surge may have changed that, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago has won 14 of its last 22 games after a 5-14 start to move into ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The team is still below .500 and another play-in appearance seems like the best-case scenario, but the players still have 11 games before the deadline to convince management that this group is worthy of being kept together.

‘‘Trying not to veer out of my lane too much, but when we play the right way, we’re a good team,’’ said Alex Caruso, who would have plenty of suitors if the Bulls decide to move him. ‘‘I think we’ve proven that a little bit last year and this year, even though you can’t put much weight in seasons you’re not in [the playoffs]. But we’ve beaten good teams, we’ve shown we can play with the good teams, and that’s the way you win late in the season. For us, it’s just about the consistency of it. Move or no move, we’ve got to show up and do our job, keep trying to win games and be a team that can beat good teams late in the season.’’

Chicago’s most significant improvement has been on defense, Cowley adds. The team has ranked seventh in the league in defensive efficiency over its last 22 games after placing 22nd in the first 19. The offense is also getting better, moving from 26th to 18th in that same span. Nikola Vucevic believes the Bulls can continue their progress, but he realizes that front office decisions are beyond his control.

‘‘I’m happy with the guys we have here, and I think we can play even better than we have,” he said. “We have a lot more to show than we have so far. Whatever the front office wants to do, that’s on them.’’

There’s more from Chicago:

  • Zach LaVine‘s future will be the most important decision facing the team in the second half of the season, notes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. The Bulls began looking for someone to take LaVine’s pricey contract in November, but there’s been no indication of any progress. Chicago began its turnaround while LaVine was sidelined with inflammation in his right foot and has gone 4-1 since he returned. “I think he’s flowing really well,” Caruso said. “When he gets to the paint, he’s making really good reads and not forcing anything. When he does that, he plays better and it makes our offense easier. It simplifies stuff for us.”
  • Right ankle soreness caused Patrick Williams to sit out Saturday for the second time in five games, Johnson states in a separate story. Williams has been playing through pain for several weeks, and coach Billy Donovan is hoping he’ll be active for tonight’s game at Cleveland.
  • Sunday marked the two-year anniversary of Lonzo Ball‘s last game, Johnson adds in another piece. Ball has undergone three surgeries on his left knee since then, including a cartilage transplant last March. Donovan said Ball is slated to start running later this month, and he’ll connect with the team during next week’s visit to Los Angeles, where the guard is rehabbing the knee.

Central Notes: Haliburton, Mathurin, White, LaVine, Vucevic, Lillard

The Pacers will be without Tyrese Haliburton for at least two weeks, but the diagnosis of a Grade 1 left hamstring strain was a huge relief for the team, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. In a pregame session with reporters tonight, coach Rick Carlisle said there were concerns that the star guard would be out much longer when he slipped on the court Monday night.

“The news that we got on Tyrese yesterday was the best possible news that we could’ve gotten given what everybody saw,” Carlisle said. “The way he fell, the way his legs contorted and all that.”

Haliburton underwent an MRI on Tuesday that was attended by Carlisle and Haliburton’s agent, Dave Spahn. Carlisle told reporters that hamstring injuries can be tricky and indicated that the length of the guard’s absence will depend on how he responds to treatment. Haliburton will travel with the Pacers while he’s sidelined, Carlisle added, explaining that it’s beneficial to keep him close to the team.

“There are things he can do being with our training staff full time on the road that couldn’t be done here unless we left one of our therapists here and we got a whole team,” Carlisle said. “It’s the best scenario, really, to have him travel and have him work on his body and the situation and just keep going. Twelve days is going to go by fast and we’ll see where we are then. This is a 23-year-old world class athlete.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Pacers should consider moving Bennedict Mathurin into the starting lineup while Haliburton is sidelined, Dopirak contends in a separate story. Although the team could opt to replace him with another point guard such as Andrew Nembhard or T.J. McConnell, Dopirak notes that Mathurin is best equipped to take over Haliburton’s role as a perimeter scorer.
  • Bulls guard Coby White took a major step forward with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic injured, and he believes can continue to be just as successful now that they’ve returned, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “Nothing’s really changed. Obviously, we’re returning Zach and Vooch. But including those guys, everybody is telling me to keep doing what I’m doing, be myself and keep playing the way I’m playing,” White said. “They told me to stay aggressive, make the right play and be who I am and who I have been. It’s not going to happen like that every night. We have so many talented players on this team. I just want to stay aggressive and in attack mode.”
  • Minutes restrictions for LaVine and Vucevic have been removed, Bulls coach Billy Donovan said in tonight’s pregame press conference (Twitter link from Johnson).
  • Bucks guard Damian Lillard will be available for Thursday’s matchup with Boston after missing Tuesday’s game for personal reasons, according to an Associated Press report.

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Terry, Drummond, Vucevic

The trade market for Zach LaVine has been cold and there’s a real possibility he’ll remain on the Bulls roster through the season, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes.

Word leaked early in the season that LaVine was open to being moved but there’s been little traction in that regard. His recent foot injury and modest production since his return hasn’t helped that cause.

However, LaVine seems to be focused on contributing to the team, rather than a fresh start.

“In my conversations with Zach — and again he’s never really talked about his future, his feelings toward the organization and the team, never anything like that — everything he’s talked about is: How does he help the group? And it’s always been really positive, constructive conversations with him,” coach Billy Donovan said. ‘I know there is a lot of reporting and things that were out there about what potentially may or may not happen, but my conversations with him leading into his return was he needed to come in and help the group any way he could.”

We have more on the Bulls:

  • Dalen Terry has received steady minutes and the 2022 first-rounder is earning Donovan’s trust, according to Cowley. “The thing I like about him is [that] as a young player, maybe getting consistent minutes this year where last year he didn’t, you know there’s going to be these moments of down where he’s not going to play well,” Donovan said. “I always try and look at younger players as, ‘How do they come back and respond?’ . . . It’s not even making or missing shots, [but] defensive rotations, assignments, sending a guy left and he doesn’t do that, or [he] forgets to block out, leaves his feet on a shot fake and fouls a shooter. Those are the things that he’s got to get more consistent on. [But] when he’s had games where he’s done those things, he’s always come back and responded really well, and I always think that’s a good sign.”
  • Andre Drummond has put up impressive stats while starting the last seven games but he’s headed back to his usual bench role on Wednesday, Cowley reports. Drummond averaged 14 points and a whopping 17.4 rebounds per game during that span as the Bulls went 4-3. Nikola Vucevic has been eased back into the rotation since returning from a groin injury but he’ll start against the Rockets. “Vooch brings a different thing to the table as far as what he does offensively,” Donovan said.
  • In case you missed it, the Bulls haven’t dismissed the possibility of including Lonzo Ball‘s contract as part of a trade package to upgrade the team.

Central Notes: Cunningham, Antetokounmpo, Bulls, White

Amid this dismal Pistons season, Cade Cunningham has been one of the few bright spots, Omari Sankofa II of the Detroit Free Press notes.

Cunningham is averaging 23.4 points, 7.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game while shooting 45.1% overall, 33.3% on threes, and 87% at the free throw line. Cunningham missed most of last season due to shin surgery.

“I’m steadily growing,” Cunningham said. “I feel the growth. Reaching those different markers, having 40-point games, something that I had never done. It gives you something to look at to feel it out. Sometimes that’s all it takes, is just feeling it for the first time. And then you know what it takes.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo often offers blunt assessments when the Bucks aren’t playing well and Saturday was a case in point. After losing to Houston 112-108, the superstar forward ripped his team’s defensive mindset. “Offense gonna be there some nights and some nights it’s not going to be there. Your defensive effort, though, has got to be there. And defensively I don’t think it was not there. There was no pride,” he said, per Jim Owczarski of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Guys were just driving the ball, straight line drive, getting to the paint, overhelping, shooting threes, offensive rebounds. There was nothing. This was not who we are. “
  • Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic returned from injuries on Friday. Now, the Bulls hit a soft spot in their schedule and need to take advantage of it, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes. “We’ve had stretches where we’ve played really good as a team when everybody is out there,” guard Alex Caruso said. “There’s no reason with those two guys, who have each been in the league for a decade-plus, we can’t do what we want to do. It’s nothing out of their capabilities.”
  • Bulls guard Coby White has put himself in the discussion for the Most Improved Player award. White believes the next step in his development is becoming more of an off-the-ball threat, Jim Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times writes. “I need to watch more film on moving without the ball, getting into those open areas,” he said “(Caruso) does that really well and JC (Jevon Carter) does it really well, finding open areas, knowing drives and where to be. I want to play off those closeouts because I feel that’s where I’m most impactful, playing off the closeouts with either catch-and-shoots or driving it and get my play-making involved.”

Bulls’ Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic To Return Friday

As expected, Zach LaVine will be activated on Friday for the Bulls‘ home game vs. the Hornets, returning from a 17-game absence due to a right foot injury. LaVine confirmed the news himself during a media session following the team’s shootaround, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

“I’m back man. It feels good,” LaVine said. “I’ve been away for a month. I feel good. Being hurt is never good and rehabbing is some of the worst things in the world. I’m glad I’m able to do what I love. The foot feels strong. It feels better. Hopefully, it stays that way.”

LaVine told reporters that he’ll initially be on a minutes restriction and expects to play about 25 to 30 minutes on Friday. That same 25-to-30 minute restriction will apply to center Nikola Vucevic, who confirmed that he’ll also suit up tonight after missing five games due to an adductor strain, Johnson writes.

The Bulls have performed well in LaVine’s absence, winning 10 of 17 games following a 5-14 start. And with Vucevic out, Andre Drummond has been hugely productive as Chicago’s starting center, averaging 14.0 points and 19.4 rebounds over the past five games. Perhaps with those numbers in mind, the Bulls will bring both LaVine and Vucevic off the bench on Friday as the former All-Stars are eased back into Billy Donovan‘s rotation.

LaVine’s return, in particular, figures to spark league-wide interest since he has long been considered one of this season’s top trade candidates. His pricey multiyear contract has limited his appeal on the trade market, but if he plays well this month and the Bulls continue to win more games than they lose, the 28-year-old’s value could bounce back a little ahead of the February 8 trade deadline.

For his part, LaVine said he isn’t think about his trade value or whether he might be dealt in the coming weeks, and that he’s focused on helping the Bulls push for a playoff spot.

“My main objective is to get back playing. If I let opinions affect me, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I could care less what people think about me. I know who I am and what I do,” LaVine said. “I know what I have to do. Help provide for the team and help us win. I don’t look toward the future.”