|Drama-filled Bulls set to face drama-less Spurs|
CHICAGO -- As the Chicago Bulls embark on a multi-year rebuilding process, they do so understanding there will be plenty of difficult moments along the way.
Just one game into the new season, a young team filled with fresh, new faces has already experienced its share of drama. A fight in practice this week left forward Nikola Mirotic sidelined for 4-6 weeks and forward Bobby Portis suspended for eight games for punching Mirotic, who suffered facial fractures and a concussion in the altercation.
The Bulls open their home slate on Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs following a 117-100 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday. After staying close for the first quarter, Chicago was outscored 30-4 to begin the second quarter. Just like that, the reality of the uphill climb the Bulls will face all season began to set in.
"It's about giving great effort, playing for each other, doing some of the good things we did in our (training) camp by playing with pace and unselfishness," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after the loss, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Without Portis and Mirotic, the Bulls will face the Spurs at far from full strength. Chicago also remains without guards Zach LaVine (knee), Kris Dunn (left index finger) and Cameron Payne (foot).
Portis returned to practice Friday and has apologized for his actions, Hoiberg said. But Hoiberg told reporters that the job of himself and his coaches is to help players adjust to new positions they must play while Chicago remains short-handed.
Until the Bulls are able to heal up, they will depend on center Robin Lopez, who scored 18 points against Toronto to go along with 17 points and eight rebounds from rookie Lauri Markkanen in his NBA debut.
"You learn a lot every game you play, so I've gotten more comfortable every time I've stepped on the court," Markkanen told reporters Thursday night, according to the Tribune.
San Antonio enters Saturday's road opener after beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-99 Wednesday night.
The Spurs won despite playing without last year's leading scorer Kawhi Leonard and veteran guard Tony Parker. Leonard is out with right quadriceps tendinopathy while Parker is out until mid-November after undergoing surgery on his left quadriceps tendon.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 25 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in Wednesday's victory, will need to continue to pace the Spurs until Leonard and Parker are able to return.
"I'm just going to play and whatever happens, happens," Aldridge told reporters after Wednesday's victory. "I'm more comfortable for sure. Playing more confident. Hopefully that translates to us being better out there."
Danny Green will help carry the load after he scored 17 points Wednesday against Minnesota while Rudy Gay, who signed with San Antonio in the offseason, finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
Gay played Wednesday for the first time since last January, when he tore his Achilles tendon. Now healthy, Gay hopes to contribute to his new team after working so hard to return to the court.
"Man, it felt good (to play)," Gay told reporters on Wednesday. "I kind of got emotional in the game just because I've been through so much these last couple of months. I've been getting so many text messages that motivate me to keep going. It just reminds me of what I've been through these last couple of months."