DeMar DeRozan misses the Chicago Bulls’ 124-96 rout of the Portland Trail Blazers, reigniting concerns about the forward’s injury – The Denver Post

With nine games left in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were forced to ponder an unlikely question Friday night: Can they handle a final push for the play-in tournament without DeMar DeRozan?

DeRozan missed Friday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers as he continues to struggle with a right quadriceps and hip injury.

The Bulls ultimately fared just fine without their All-Star, delivering a 124-96 blowout to a Trail Blazers team playing without Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkić. Zach LaVine made six 3-pointers and led the team with 33 points while Nikola Vučević supported with 23 points and 15 rebounds. But amid an otherwise uncompetitive night of basketball, DeRozan’s injury stood out.

DeRozan received treatment in Portland on Thursday night and put up shots with teammates Friday morning. But his activity was relatively limited, and coach Billy Donovan said the forward is questionable for the back-to-back games Sunday and Monday in Los Angeles.

“I think he’s definitely feeling better,” Donovan said. “But it is going to be cautious with him, just based on the history of what’s happened.”

DeRozan has been bothered by the injury since mid-December, playing through it for 10 games before exiting the Jan. 11 matchup against the Boston Celtics. He appeared to return to full speed only to exit against the Orlando Magic on Feb. 13 and miss the final two games before the All-Star break.

Despite insisting upon his return that he was back to 100%, DeRozan requested to leave Wednesday’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers only minutes into the third quarter.

The description of DeRozan’s injury has been somewhat ambiguous over the last four months, ranging from a bruised knee to a Grade 1 thigh strain. In February, DeRozan said he had “never felt nothing like this” and felt confused by the source of the pain — or a possible solution.

DeRozan declined to speak with media after Wednesday’s game and following the shootaround Friday in Portland. He originally was listed as questionable for the game.

Donovan said DeRozan’s pain level was not as high as it had been in February. And after Wednesday’s game, Donovan said he didn’t expect the forward to miss “any length of time.” But with only nine games left — and a dramatic final push necessary to hold a spot in the play-in tournament — every game without DeRozan will feel significant.

“I’m always concerned because he’s been dealing with it,” Donovan said. “Most guys are not totally healthy this time of year but they’re on the court and able to work through it. I think for Alex (Caruso) and DeMar, they’re at a place where they physically can’t perform where they want to or need to for us.”

The path through the rest of the West Coast trip could be similarly effortless for the Bulls as they face similarly short-handed Lakers and Clippers lineups. But DeRozan’s injury brings a broader uncertainty to the stretch run.

The Bulls are in 10th place in the East, 2½ games ahead of the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. They trail the No. 9 Toronto Raptors by a half-game and the No. 8 Atlanta Hawks by one game.

The Bulls have been less reliant on DeRozan this season than last. But the forward is still key to the Bulls offense, providing balance to the one-two punch alongside LaVine.

DeRozan’s production dipped in February as he dealt with the injury — logging 6.7 fewer points per game compared with his season average — but appeared to level out in March. Similar slippage in the final 16 days of the season would place a heavier burden on LaVine to make up the difference.

This would only add to the challenge of the closing stretch for the Bulls, who need to go 6-3 over the final nine games to finish .500.


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