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Bulls vs. Pacers preview and open game thread: Lonzo Ball in COVID protocols as Chicago finally returns to action

First game in nearly a week for Chicago, but more guys are out now

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Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

After nearly a week off due to another postponement and a Christmas break, the Chicago Bulls are back in action on Sunday. This will be the third straight game at home as they look for their 11th win at the United Center this season. The last time Chicago was in action on Monday, they took care of business against the Houston Rockets, 133-118. It was quite the high-scoring matchup as both teams shot over 50 percent from the field. Chicago quickly built up a double-digit lead and by the time halftime hit, the game was in blowout territory.

The win put the Bulls’ record at 19-10, still good enough to be tied for second-best in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee winning on Christmas put them in a tie with Chicago (Bulls are percentage points ahead), while Brooklyn’s win made the gap between them and the Bulls at two games. But the good news is that Chicago has games to make up, which will allow them to gain ground on the Nets. Including Sunday, they are currently scheduled to play three games in four days, so things could look different by next weekend.

However, it’s not all good news in the Windy City. Just days after clearing everyone from the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the Bulls had to add some names to the list. Billy Donovan entered protocols a few days ago, making Chris Fleming the acting HC in his absence. Then, Sunday, the Bulls had to add three players in Lonzo Ball, Tony Bradley, and Alfonzo McKinnie, who was just rewarded with a rest-of-season contract. Alize Johnson, not Matt Thomas, was waived in order to give McKinnie this deal.

Losing Ball is a huge loss to Chicago. He has had an impressive season so far on both sides of the court. They will have to rely on the young duo of Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu at the point guard spot. Devon Dotson should also get more minutes as well. We may even seen more of an uptick of possessions where Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are bringing the ball up the court. This also affects Chicago’s ability to score in transition, because Ball’s passing was a big part of that. Bradley and McKinnie being out likely means more Tyler Cook and perhaps even Ersan Ilyasova.

With these newly announced absences, the Bulls will have work to do as they face off against a team which ran them off the court in their last matchup. It wasn’t even close when the Indiana Pacers came into Chicago on Nov. 22. The Bulls were sluggish from the opening tip and mustered just 16 points in the first quarter. Indiana jumped all over the poor start and ended up winning by 32 points in a 109-77 blowout.

The Pacers are coming into this one in good spirits as they’ve won two of their last three games. This will be the third game this week for Indiana. Like Chicago, the Pacers’ most recent action came against the Rockets. Despite Houston taking the lead in the third quarter, the Pacers dominated in the fourth. They outscored the Rockets 27-12 in the final frame en route to a 118-106 win. Myles Turner was dominant as he notched a double-double of 32 points and 10 rebounds. Caris LeVert added 24 points, while rookie Chris Duarte had 18. The Pacers still are near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-19. They are only two games out of 10th place, though.

The key for Chicago will be dealing with Turner, as he gave them all sorts of problems the last time they met. With Bradley out, the Bulls are going to need a big game from Nikola Vucevic. With his shooting, he can drag Turner out of the paint, which can open up driving lanes and space inside for LaVine and DeRozan.

Injury Report: Outside of the guys in health and safety protocols, Chicago will be missing both Alex Caruso and Derrick Jones Jr. as they recover from a left foot sprain and a hamstring strain, respectively.

As for the Pacers, Malcolm Brogdon (sore right achilles), Domantas Sabonis (sore right calf), and Jeremy Lamb (sore right wrist) are all questionable. T.J. McConnell and T.J. Warren are out.

Game Time: 7 p.m. CT

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Odds: Chicago is listed as a six-point favorite, but you can find them at 6.5 too. The total is set at 219 with totals of 219.5 available at some places as well. (All info via The Action Network)