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Jul 13, 2024  |  
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https://chicago.suntimes.com/authors/joe-cowley


NextImg:Bulls center Nikola Vucevic set to reach milestone, but wants more

As long as there were no slips in the shower on Sunday morning or an errant kid’s toy to step on, Nikola Vucevic will reach a very impressive milestone when the regular-season finale tips-off in the afternoon at the United Center.

For the first time in his 12-year NBA career, he will have played all 82 regular-season games.

Vucevic hit 80 back in the 2018-19 season, he’s been in the 70s four times, but never the full 82.

“I really want to get there, do all 82,’’ Vucevic said on Saturday. “It’s very hard to do. Not a lot of people can do it, so it’s something I want to do for myself. It speaks to my continuity, staying healthy. I’m not a big fan of sitting out. Usually I want to play if I can. A little achievement for myself, and something I can be proud of.’’

In a time in the NBA where load management and sitting out games is so in vogue, Vucevic would join a club of about 10 players this season – including teammate Patrick Williams – that played in all 82 regular-season games.

Only Vucevic and New York’s Isaiah Hartenstein, however, are considered centers, which makes what the Bulls’ big man is about to pull off even more impressive.

“With the way the league goes, and I know there’s a lot of talk about the load management and guys missing games, but I think you need to look at the fact that the game is so much faster today,’’ coach Billy Donovan said of the feat. “Points are going up, there’s more possessions. It’s more taxing on you. For him as a center, a big guy, to take care of his body the way he does … when you’ve got a player like Vooch, availability is critical. I give him a lot of credit on how he’s kept himself available.’’

Vucevic credited a good work ethic learned by watching his father play professionally, a great routine learned through the years from veteran teammates, and his wife, Nikoleta, for allowing him the few extra hours of sleep when needed, but also some good old-fashioned luck.

“You can do everything right, and then you step on someone’s foot and miss time,’’ Vucevic added.

But what would be even more meaningful for Vucevic than playing all 82? If there’s a game 85 to play in.

That would mean the Bulls won out in both play-in games this upcoming week, and were headed for the playoffs for a second-consecutive season.

A tough ask considering no No. 10 seed has made it out of the play-in tournament since the league started it back in 2020.

Then again, no No. 10 seed has been as underachieving and inconsistent as the Bulls.

That’s what makes Wednesday’s game in Toronto so intriguing. Really all four of the teams in the Eastern Conference play-in have shown that they can beat the NBA’s best on any given night, and then turn around and lose to a Houston Rockets team that has been in tank mode since November.

What Vucevic was hoping for was there have been enough bad losses, disappointing injuries, and blown leads on the season to more than teach some painful lessons to this roster.

If that group didn’t learn from all that’s been thrown at them by now, it might never come.

“We’ve been through kind of everything this season,’’ Vucevic said. “We know what works for us, what doesn’t. We also know that sometimes we don’t do it. It all depends on how we approach the game, how locked in we are. How we manage the game.

“We know it won’t be an easy one, playing on the road in Toronto – one of the toughest environments to play in. It’s one game – win or lose – and a lot can happen. Just have to do a really good job preparing ourselves for that game.’’