Chicago basketball report: Bulls could get some injury relief soon — and a sizable challenge awaits Illinois

The Chicago Bulls enter the new year juggling injuries to three players who have started this season.

Aneesah Morrow continues to pile up double-doubles in her new role for LSU.

And the Illinois men could knock off the top team in the country Friday.

Every Wednesday throughout the season, Tribune writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead — for the Bulls, Sky and local basketball.

Bulls keep injured trio home to expedite recovery

The Bulls are getting by with their shortest and youngest rotations of the season as they manage injuries to Zach LaVine (right foot), Torrey Craig (right foot) and Nikola Vučević (left groin). Coach Billy Donovan is hopeful for some relief in the coming weeks.

The Bulls kept all three players home from this week’s trip to Philadelphia and New York to continue their recovery. The team typically prefers injured players to travel to maintain cohesion within the team, but Donovan said the medical staff felt the additional training time in Chicago could benefit all three.

LaVine has begun contact practice with the Windy City Bulls, which could prepare him for a return within the next week. Vučević has not been cleared for contact practice, but he will need a less extensive ramping-up period due to the shorter absence.

Craig could be the last to return as he undergoes the slow recovery process for a sprained plantar fascia. His original timeline of eight to 10 weeks placed his estimated return in late February.

Although Craig was hopeful he could speed up that process — joking that he could be back in two weeks — he has yet to be cleared for contact practice. During Bulls practices, he has been working on small exercises on a padded surface with his shoes off under the supervision of a team trainer.

Aneesah Morrow is a double-double machine for LSU

If one thing is guaranteed in 2024, it’s a slew of double-doubles from Chicago native Aneesah Morrow.

The transfer from DePaul recorded her ninth double-double in 14 games this season Saturday when she tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds against Jacksonville. Morrow is second behind All-American Angel Reese in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.5 per game) for the defending national champion Tigers (13-1).

When Morrow first transferred to LSU, the main question she faced was how to compete with Reese for a spot in the rotation. The Tigers have flipped around that question to their competition: How can teams slow the one-two punch of Reese and Morrow in the starting lineup together?

Morrow also is averaging 2.9 steals and 1.6 blocks. But she has even higher goals for herself in her junior year.

“I want to get that to at least 13 or 14 (rebounds per game),” Morrow told CBS Sports in December. “I know it’s going to be hard, so I’m going to need to have some big rebounding games.

“I want to also break the school record for steals (in a game). I’ve come so close to it, and I know I can do that any given night if I continue to stay aggressive.”

Illinois men prepare for showdown with No. 1

No. 9 Illinois could knock off the top team in the country when it visits Purdue on Friday (7:30 p.m., Fox-32).

The Illini went 5-1 in December to improve to 10-2. Their only losses are to No. 5 Tennessee and No. 7 Marquette.

Purdue is the only currently ranked opponent Illinois will face until March, when they visit No. 21 Wisconsin and host the rematch against the Boilermakers in two of the final three regular-season games.

There is one obvious challenge in any game against Purdue: defending 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey. Last season’s national player of the year is averaging 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds this season.

“We have really, really good players and quality depth, and it might not have shown with some of the young guys in some of these early games,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We played a very demanding and challenging schedule. It’s a blessing that I have an old team and a team that is very dedicated and committed to each other and the process.”

Number of the week: 21.3

There’s never a doubt when Andre Drummond is on the court and a shot goes up that he will find a way to get the ball.

Drummond has dominated the boards during his first three starts with the Bulls in place of Vučević, averaging 21.3 rebounds, easily the most in the league during that span.

Rebounding always has been at the heart of Drummond’s performance on the court. He snagged nine in the first quarter of Saturday’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers and finished with 23 — only 13 fewer than the entire 76ers.

“When he decides to go get the rebound, there ain’t a whole lot you can do to stop him,” 76ers coach Nick Nurse said. “We talk about ‘sandwich’ — where one guy’s in front, one guy’s in back — that’s sandwich rebounding. It’s like a club sandwich. You need three or four slices of bread in there to stop him.”

Drummond will move back into the second unit once Vučević returns, but this span of starts has emphasized his importance on the glass.

Week ahead: Bulls

  • Wednesday: at Knicks, 7:30 p.m., ABC-7

  • Thursday: Off

  • Friday: vs. Hornets, 7 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Saturday: Off

  • Sunday: Off

  • Monday: at Hornets, 6 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Tuesday: Off

What we’re reading this morning

This week in Chicago basketball

Jan. 7, 1927: The Original Harlem Globetrotters played their first road game in Hinckley, Ill.

Abe Saperstein created the group originally known as the Savoy Big Five — named after the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago.

Besides victories over pushover opponents, the Globetrotters won a 1940 tournament to lay claim to being basketball’s professional champions and prompting Arch Ward, the Tribune sports editor who created baseball’s All-Star Game, to proclaim: “The Harlem Globetrotters are the best-known team in professional basketball.”

In 1948, the Globetrotters beat the Minneapolis Lakers of the newly established National Basketball Association.

In 2016, a sign outside Hinckley-Big Rock High School commemorated the 90th anniversary of the first Globetrotters road game played there.


“I don’t do nothing else. I don’t hang out. When I go home, I’m home. I’m off my feet, chilling. I’m with my kids, watching TV, taking five-hour naps. I stay on top of it.” — DeMar DeRozan explaining how he prioritizes recovery as he logs the NBA’s highest workload for a player over 30