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Wendell Carter Jr. hoping to return after All-Star break, still believes Bulls can make playoffs

he’s a competitor

2020 NBA All-Star - Portraits Photo by Michael J. LeBrecht II/NBAE via Getty Images

CHICAGO — Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. has been out with a right ankle injury since Jan. 6, and that injury is keeping him out of Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge at the United Center.

However, Carter is hoping he’ll be back when the Bulls return to the court after the All-Star break on Thursday against the Hornets.

“I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” Carter said at his Rising Stars Challenge media session at Wintrust Arena on Friday morning. I’m continuously doing rehab and therapy on the ankle every day, so I’m just trying to get it feeling right. I want to be back the next game. That’s what I’m shooting for right now. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but that’s definitely what I’m shooting for.”

Carter was initially diagnosed with a “severe” right ankle sprain, with an injury timetable of 4-6 weeks. The most recent update from the team came after Carter was named to the Rising Stars Challenge at the end of January. He was already ruled out through the All-Star break at that point, with the spot in the game going to Zion Williamson.

The Feb. 20 game against the Hornets would be past the six-week mark, so it would make sense if Carter is able to return to the lineup. Although he admitted he’s not totally sure if he’ll be back, don’t be surprised if he suits up.

While many Bulls fans don’t want to hear the injury excuse at this point, injuries were a theme of Carter’s sales pitch when he was asked about the the state of the rebuild (he also pitched free agents on Chicago’s food). The Bulls have been without Carter, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn over the last stretch of games.

“Everybody kind of sees we’re in the building stage,” Carter acknowledged. “I feel like we’re at a really good place, but we haven’t been able to be healthy for a long string of games. Everybody kind of sees the potential in us and know that when we’re fully healthy and fully active that we’re pretty hard to beat.”

That last part isn’t exactly true given the Bulls struggled to start the season with a healthy core of players. They were 3-6 when Porter went down and have scuffled throughout most of the season. There was a stretch in December and January when they were bumslaying on a consistent basis, but the Bulls have proven very easy to beat when it comes to playoff-caliber competition. They’re 3-21 against teams currently over .500, and two of those wins came early in the season against an up-and-coming Grizzlies team that hadn’t found its stride yet.

Of course, Carter’s not just going to come out and say everything is doomed. The 20-year-old knows this season hasn’t gone the way he and the Bulls wanted it to, and he even admitted this summer Instagram post in which he basically apologized for letting the city down has “backfired” on him:

Still, Carter is a competitive guy who’s itching to get back out on the floor and make a difference the rest of the season. While most Bulls fans scoff at the idea of making the playoffs at this point, he’s not giving up on that goal just yet.

“I see it as a possibility for this year,” Carter declared. “I’m a competitor. I feel like once I come back and I’m able to play for my team, I feel like we can win enough games to get into the playoffs. That’s kind of my mindset and any time I step on the floor I think we’re going to win. I feel like we can win just enough games to get into the playoffs.”

The 19-36 Bulls are currently five games behind the Magic for the No. 8 seed, with the ninth-seeded Wizards three games behind Orlando. The Bulls do have an “easy” stretch of games coming up right after the All-Star break, but then March and April is a murderer’s row of playoff opponents. A playoff berth is almost totally out of the question given where the Bulls are at, but Carter has the right mindset and isn’t giving up on the season. He has been a mature voice in the locker room despite his age, and his impact on the court — at least defensively — has been notable.

Carter touched on a number of other topics during his near-20-minute media session, including his usage, 3-point shooting and analytics, his future as a potential All-Star, and of course, Jim Boylen. Be on the lookout for more on Carter in the coming days.