Nikola Vučević exits COVID-19 isolation, nearing return
Nikola Vučević has exited isolation and is set to enter the cardiovascular testing phase of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan told reporters Sunday evening.
Vučević, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 11, has been sidelined for the last five games, and will be again for Sunday’s home matchup with the Knicks. But, as he enters the final stage of protocol, a return from his stint on the sidelines appears to be in sight.
“He’ll be cleared (to play) when the doctors and the physicians feel comfortable that he’s passed everything,” Donovan said of Vučević, referencing cardiovascular testing. “He should be in the arena today. He can be around our team. He’s out of all of that stuff. And now that next step is the cardiovascular testing.”
Before the Knicks game, the Bulls owned a 3-2 without Vučević, banking wins over the Lakers, Clippers and Nuggets, and suffering losses to the Warriors and Trail Blazers, on their recent West Coast trip.
Tony Bradley started all five of those games in Vučević’s stead, averaging 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 20.2 minutes. Derrick Jones Jr. and, at times, Javonte Green combined to fill the backup center slot, bringing their typical activity and versatility.
But Bradley has looked uncomfortable as a facilitator in halfcourt settings, and Jones Jr. and Green give up a lot of size in the front court, making Vučević’s return crucial.
When exactly that return comes will be up to the team’s medical staff, according to Donovan.
“It’s all up to the doctors and them being satisfied with whatever they’re putting him into in terms of the testing part of it,” Donovan said. “It may be a situation where he could do one test and they may want more. They may want him to work out a few more days before he plays. So it’s all really up to the doctors and how the medical people are gonna handle it.”
Vučević’s is averaging 13.6 points, 10.9 rebound and 4.3 assists with uncharacteristic 39.5/26.7/73.7 percent shooting splits in his 11 appearances this season. Whenever he is cleared to return, the team hopes he can build on his 18-point, 8-for-14-shooting outing against the Mavericks in his last game before entering protocol.
The Bulls face the Pacers at home on Monday, then visit the Rockets (Wednesday) and Magic (Friday) later in the week before returning to Chicago to host the Heat on Saturday.