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Bulls vs. Spurs preview and open thread: Another winnable game as Bulls limp towards All-Star break

DeMar’s old pals return

NBA: Chicago Bulls at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Your Chicago Bulls hope to push their win streak to four straight against newly-minted All-Star guard Dejounte Murray and the lottery-bound San Antonio Spurs tonight at the United Center.

The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, DeMar DeRozan, hopes to get a win against his prior club. The last time the two teams met, January 28th, an impressive second half by Murray (who almost had a triple-double) led the Spurs to a 131-122 victory. To be fair, the Bulls were missing plenty of players at the time. They’ll be missing even more bodies tonight.

After eons of relatively-inactive trade deadlines, the Spurs made two big deadline moves with an eye towards the future. Gregg Popovich and RC Buford’s young squad is currently the 12th seed, at 22-35, in the West. The Spurs flipped guard Derrick White to the Boston Celtics in exchange for oft-traded swingman Josh Richardson, recent lottery dud Romeo Langford, a top-four-protected 2022 first-round draft pick and a 2028 first-round pick swap. In a separate move, San Antonio also flipped old pal Thaddeus Young, along with reserve big man Drew Eubanks and a 2022 second-round draft pick from the Pistons, to the Raptors in exchange for veteran point guard Goran Dragic, along with Toronto’s lottery-protected 2022 first-rounder, which looks likely to convey.

The second move actually carries significant implications for Chicago, as Young, who could have been a candidate on the buyout market for Chicago, appears likely to stick in Toronto, a club that could actually use him. After the deal, the Raptors did release Eubanks, who could be an intriguing prospect for the Bulls as they gear up for the postseason. The 6’9” 25-year-old is averaging a modest 4.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game across just 12.1 minutes in his fourth NBA season. Dragic, too, appears likely to reach a buyout agreement with the Spurs and will certainly be on the Bulls’ radar as they look to shore up their guard depth.

With the White move, Devin Vassell joined the Spurs’ starting backcourt alongside Murray, and has performed well so far, averaging 17.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in the club’s two games since the deal, both wins. The Spurs comprise an intriguing young roster, with defensive stalwart Jakob Poeltl (another rumored Bulls addition heading into the trade deadline) manning the middle, third-year small forward Keldon Johnson at small forward, and former Bull Doug McDermott (drafted two spots ahead of Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine in 2014, by the way) at the four.

Speaking of Zach LaVine, news arrived over the weekend that the left knee injury that has been bugging Chicago’s two-time All-Star shooting guard is apparently still an issue. He’ll miss the last two games for Chicago ahead of the All-Star break and is hoping to partake in the All-Star Weekend festivities, but in the mean time he is getting the knee examined by a specialist in Los Angeles.

At 36-21, Chicago is currently the Eastern Conference’s second seed, and desperately needs to capitalize on a relative cupcake schedule right now, between the Spurs game tonight and a Sacramento Kings game on Wednesday. The Bulls have won three straight games against beatable opponents so far, while missing Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams for all three contests, as well as Derrick Jones Jr., LaVine and Javonte Green for some of them. Ball, Caruso, and Williams, will all remain sidelined along with LaVine tonight. Green has been listed as questionable, while Jones is probable to play.

DeRozan is enjoying an absolutely spectacular run right now, having scored 30+ points across his last six games and 35+ points in his last five. He’s a fringe MVP candidate for a reason this season. The Bulls will need to lean heavily on his production against the Spurs as usual tonight with so many rotation players out hurt. Nikola Vucevic, Coby White, and Ayo Dosunmu will need to keep rolling on offense, too. Our fingers are crossed that Billy Donovan won’t need to lean too heavily on minutes from Malcolm Hill or Matt Thomas tonight.

The Bulls’ absences will make this game something of a push, though Chicago will still boast the best player on the court. Chicago could win, but it may be another slog wherein the Bulls’ best all log 35+ minutes. Murray’s athleticism could be a problem for the Bulls defensively, given that their best guards on that end of the floor are out. Poeltl, who joined DeRozan in San Antonio as part of Toronto’s trade for Kawhi Leonard, has emerged as a good defender with the Spurs. He may pester Vucevic a bit. He essentially won their matchup last time.

Bulls Injuries:

Zach LaVine (knee), Patrick Williams (wrist), Lonzo Ball (knee), and Alex Caruso (wrist) are all out. Javonte Green (foot) is questionable for tonight, while Derrick Jones Jr. (finger) is probable.

Spurs Injuries:

Goran Dragic, who will most likely be bought out any day now, is away from the team. Everyone else is healthy.

Game Time: 7 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago