Nikola Vučević has come out of isolation and is entering the cardiovascular testing phase of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan told reporters Sunday night.
Vučević, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 11, has been sidelined for the past five games and will return to the Knicks home game on Sunday. But as he enters the final phase of protocol, a return from his stint on the sidelines seems in sight.
“He will be released (to play) when the doctors and the doctors feel comfortable that he has passed everything,” Donovan said of Vučević, referring to cardiovascular tests. “He should be in the arena today. He can be with our team. He’s lost all that stuff. And now that next step is the cardiovascular test.”
Before the Knicks game, the Bulls were 3-2 without Vučević, triumphing over banking the Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets and suffering losses to the Warriors and Trail Blazers on their recent trip to the West Coast.
Tony Bradley started all five games in Vučević’s place, averaging 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 20.2 minutes. Derrick Jones Jr. and sometimes Javonte Green filled the backup center together, bringing their typical activity and versatility.
But Bradley looked awkward as a facilitator in half-court environments, and Jones Jr. and Green give up a lot of space in the forecourt, making Vučević’s return crucial.
When exactly that return will come, according to Donovan, is up to the medical staff of the team.
“It’s all up to the doctors and those who are happy with whatever they do to him in terms of the testing part of it,” Donovan said. “It could be a situation where he could do one test and they may want more. Maybe they want him to train for a few more days before playing. So it’s all up to the doctors and how the medical people deal with it.”
Vučević’s averaged 13.6 points, 10.9 rebound and 4.3 assists with an unusual 39.5/26.7/73.7 percent shooting in his 11 appearances this season. Whenever he gets clearance to return, the team hopes he can build on his 18-point, 8-for-14 shooting outing against the Mavericks in his final game before going into protocol.
The Bulls play at home against the Pacers on Monday, then visit the Rockets (Wednesday) and Magic (Friday) later in the week before returning to Chicago to host the Heat on Saturday.
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