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Chicago Bulls prized rookie big man Lauri Markkanen has been sidelined with a back injury which he sustained in practice last week, but the 7-footer from Finland is feeling better and close to making his much-anticipated debut.
Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters Monday that Markkanen will sit out the team’s first three preseason games as he recovers from the back spasms.
Chicago beat the New Orleans Pelicans in their exhibition opener and then fell to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 2 sans Markkanen.
The Bulls take on the Milwaukee Bucks next on Friday at home.
Markkanen, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft, is the focal point of Chicago’s new rebuild project and the Bulls are going to play it safe with him and guard Zach LaVine (ACL) all season long.
Markkanen spoke with reporters Wednesday night and said his back is making sound progress and that he’s trying not to focus on it too much.
“My back is getting better,” Markkanen told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But to be honest, I don’t want to say anything more as far as when I’ll be able to play. I just really don’t want to talk about it anymore. Of course I would like to play every game, but it’s just how things happen. I’m doing my treatment and trying to get out there.’’
While playing in the FIBA Eurobasket tournament for Finland over the summer, Markkanen showed glimpses of stardom by scoring in bunches from the perimeter and post while showcasing his high basketball acumen. He averaged 19.5 points per game.
The 20-year-old stretch forward did strain his back overseas as well, but Hoiberg and the Bulls don’t see Markkanen’s back ailment being a long-term issue — or so they hope.
Markkanen ran the floor for the first time Wednesday with his teammates and reported no pain afterwards. The plan as of now is for Markkanen to play in his first NBA game Sunday against the Pelicans at the United Center.
Once he steps onto the floor, Markkanen believes he’ll flourish in Hoiberg’s up-tempo offense, as he’s been doing his due diligence.
“I think I’m going to be good,” Markkanen said of playing in Hoiberg’s system. “I’m watching film and asking a lot of questions from the coaches, so I’m trying to be as ready as I can be when I get out there. I don’t want to have to worry about thinking too much. Just play.’’