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Bulls weekly preview: Lonzo recovery stagnating, Pat-Will back and the playoffs start now

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 21, 2022

The rubber is meeting the road here with 12 games left in the Bulls regular season. This stretch is perhaps the most important of the year.

Here’s what to look out for heading into the week of March 21.

Lonzo rehab stagnating

As we enter week seven of the 6-8 week time table for Lonzo Ball’s recovery, the rehab process seems to be going nowhere.

“He has not responded,” Donovan told reporters before Friday’s game against the Suns. “There’s no setbacks. He has not been able to do anything full speed. And anytime we get him close to that, there’s discomfort.”

Sportswriter here, not a doctor. But to me, those are conflicting statements. Not responding to treatment on the original timeline and being unable to progress with rehab seems like a setback to me.

“You want to have a situation where you can really ramp him up and he still has discomfort there. So I think they’re trying to figure out how to ease that to basically take the next step,” Donovan said. “He hasn’t gone backwards. He just has not been able to go forward far enough to do the things he needs to do to be able to play.”

I would expect to hear an updated timeline at the end of this week. To get an outside perspective, I spoke to Dr. Pandya a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at UCSF, who said a lot of this is semantics.

“His surgery is not suffering a set-back per se but the pre-existing bone bruise is slowing his recovery down,” he said. “A clean way of saying it is that the bone bruise is slowing down the typical recovery from a 6-8 week expected recovery from a meniscus surgery.”

The bone bruise seems to be limiting his progression which would make sense as that can sometimes take 8-12 weeks to full heal and not cause pain. So, I do believe it would be accurate to say that not being able to progress in rehab at this point due to discomfort is a set-back. “

To be clear, Dr. Pandya has not worked with Ball whatsoever, so this is not a new timeline coming from the Bulls, but rather an estimate based on other similar cases.

If this is indeed a situation where the timetable is pushed back to 12 weeks, which again, is not what is being reported at this point, Ball would be coming back to play about around April 22. The NBA play-in tournament goes from April 12-15, with the playoffs officially kicking off on April 16.

Patrick Williams returns

The much-anticipated return of Patrick Williams comes tonight against the Raptors.

Keeping this section short because I wrote a whole long thing about how he fits into the lineup, what value he provides relative to the other power forwards in the rotation and what the expectations should be on the second-year forward after missing 65 games. Give it a read here.

Playoffs start now

Speaking of the playoffs, they unofficially start today for the Bulls. As I wrote after Friday’s loss to the Suns, the path to a doomsday scenario is emerging as a potential reality.

Upcoming games against Toronto and Cleveland are particularly important. The Bulls need those games to maintain their cushion on the fifth seed, and win the tie-breakers in the event that they finish the season with the same record as either team.

The Bulls now have the fifth hardest remaining schedule and are the projected fifth seed per 538.

Get the popcorn ready.

Week ahead predictions:

My prediction of 2-1 last week didn’t go so well. After an 0-3 stretch, games get even more important. Here’s how I see it playing out.

Monday vs. Raptors: Maybe the most important game of the week. Only home game before a five-game road trip. Absolute must win. Bulls pick it up with Pat Williams back in the lineup.

Tuesday @ Bucks: Will the Bulls drop to 0-10 against the top three teams in the East? I think so. They just don’t have the juice right now.

Thursday @ Pelicans: New Orleans has been frisky lately, acquiring CJ McCollum for their play-in push. No roll-over team, but Bulls should win this one.

Saturday @ Cavaliers: Another high stakes game with the Cavs nipping on the Bulls heels for the 5th seed. I don’t think the Bulls will beat both the Cavs and the Raptors, but I think they’ll get one of them. Toronto is playing better ball of late, but I’ll hedge here and take Cleveland to avoid the panic sirens after a potential loss on Monday.

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