With nudge from league, Justin Holiday returns as Bulls hand Grizzlies 15th straight loss

K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Basketball

CHICAGO -- Anyone wondering how the Bulls felt about the NBA applying its new rules governing the resting of healthy players to their rebuilding plan got their answer with Wednesday's rotation.

Justin Holiday started the first and third quarters and played just 17 minutes, 21 seconds in those lone two rotational turns during the Bulls' 119-110 victory over the Grizzlies, which didn't stop Holiday from scoring 14 points. Meanwhile, Robin Lopez remained inactive, though coach Fred Hoiberg said both players will start Friday in Detroit.

That the Bulls adhered to the bare minimum requirements of the first-year rules spoke volumes.

After all, the Bulls were starting a player in David Nwaba who has been strong analytically and also their future core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen while also aiding their draft lottery ping-pong ball chances by removing Holiday and Lopez as starters. Though the Bulls complied with the league's rules and showed understanding of the league's sensitivity to them didn't mean they loved the decision.

That the rules got enforced the day before the Grizzlies arrived with a losing streak that grew to 15 games and solidified their league-worst record had to make it more difficult to swallow. The Grizzlies, who cut a 21-point deficit to one four times in the fourth, started somebody named Kobi Simmons, who played with Markkanen last season at Arizona.

The rules, designed mostly to stop good teams from resting good players in high profile games, allow Commissioner Adam Silver to fine teams for violating policy but also allow teams to sit at least one healthy rotational player for home games. All healthy, rotational players are supposed to play in road games.

Minimum requirements met.

"Our young guys will still get an opportunity to play," Hoiberg said.

They certainly did against the reeling Grizzlies, whose Dillon Brooks scored 20 of his 29 points in the fourth. Markkanen posted his 10th 20-point game in a 22-point outing that featured six dunks. LaVine added 21 points and Dunn 21 points and nine assists. Dunn scored 11 of his 21 in the fourth as each of the young core scored 20 or more in the same game for the first time.

Holiday sank all five shots, including four 3-pointers. Both he and Lopez continued to go with the flow.

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Holiday said he didn't even know about the confirmed, cordial talks between the league office and the Bulls about his and Lopez's situation.

"We're still playing the young guys. That hasn't changed," Holiday said. "I'm pretty sure I'm not playing 35 minutes.

"They kind of tell me when I'm playing and when I'm not. It all works for me. I'm always ready. Whenever you want me to go out there, I'm out there."

Lopez said management's communication with him has been fine and he'd love to return as the Bulls' starting center next season.

"It's a little bit of a crazy situation. I'm always excited to get out there and play with the guys on the floor," Lopez said. "I'm not too familiar with what the NBA is thinking. I never talked to them during this process, and I'm not too familiar with what's going on with other teams in that (tanking) regard. When they pop up on the schedule, we're dialed in and ready to play them. But otherwise, I'm a little oblivious.

"Obviously, I'm an NBA player and want to play basketball. But I want to do the best I can with the situation I'm dealt. My teammates, like I said, supported me when I'm on the floor, when I'm off the floor, and I want to be able to do the same for them."

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