Bulls brace for Nikola Vucevic's absence, more COVID-19 testing

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Bulls brace for Vučević's absence, more COVID-19 tests originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

SAN FRANCISCO — Zach LaVine knows what it’s like to miss games with COVID-19.

So the All-Star guard, who watched the Chicago Bulls’ play-in chances crumble last season as they went 4-7 without him late last season, didn’t mince words when asked about Nikola Vučević testing positive for the virus.

“It sucks, man. Obviously just wishing for his health, first off, for him and his family,” LaVine said Friday morning at Chase Center following the Bulls’ morning shootaround. “And then we’re just going to have to battle and work this out without him until he gets back.

"Big blow, obviously. He’s one of the main pieces of our team. I just feel like that last game he was getting his rhythm back and everything like that. So it just sucks.”

The Bulls begin a five-game trip against the NBA-leading Golden State Warriors Friday night. Coach Billy Donovan confirmed Vučević will miss at least the entire trip after Vučević landed in the league’s health and safety protocols on Thursday.

Donovan talked to his starting center on Thursday and exchanged text messages with him Friday morning.

“I think he’s feeling fine. He feels like he’s got symptoms of a cold,” Donovan said. “They don’t seem to be too severe, so that’s a good thing. Hopefully he won’t really be down and out too much.”

The Bulls are fully vaccinated. LaVine said players began getting tested daily following the second meeting against the 76ers over a four-day stretch last week. Three 76ers, including two who played in at least one of the matchups, have tested positive.

Donovan said coaches began daily testing on Thursday.

“I feel like everybody has been pretty safe with us. We’ve been wearing our masks a lot. Obviously, we have got a lot of tests done the last couple days and it seems like everybody has been safe. Fingers crossed,” LaVine said, when asked about his concern level for team spread. “Obviously, you hope nothing like that happens. Obviously it can, but I think that’s worst-case scenario.”

Vučević has to remain in the league’s protocols for at least 10 days or until he returns two negative PCR tests over a 24-hour span. In his absence, Donovan said Tony Bradley and Alize Johnson will receive the bulk of duties. But the coach isn’t opposed to possibly trying super small-ball lineups featuring Derrick Jones Jr. or Javonte Green at center.

“Even though Vooch struggled maybe to shoot the ball, I thought the end of the Brooklyn game and start of Dallas game he was finding his spots and rhythm a little bit,” Donovan said. “So it’s unfortunate that he’s out. So much of what we did was put the ball in his hands. And he kind of created a lot of space for us. He’s a big guy who shoots it and teams always respect that. Certainly him being off the floor will be different for us.”

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