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The new-look Chicago Bulls are off to a roaring start to the 2021-22 season. After making one of the biggest offseason splashes in the NBA over the summer, the Bulls are 8-3 through their first 11 games and currently sit in second place in the Eastern Conference.

But that strong start might be coming to a screeching halt after starting center Nikola Vucevic tested positive for COVID-19 and entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Thursday.

The Bulls already look like title contenders

The Bulls haven’t been to the Eastern Conference Finals in 10 years. They missed the playoffs in each of the last four seasons after finishing with losing records, so they decided to get aggressive in the offseason.

This summer, Chicago signed DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and a few other bench pieces to build around Vucevic and Zach LaVine. The Bulls were an interesting team to watch coming into the season, but they’re already exceeding expectations sooner than expected.

Through 11 games, the Bulls are 8-3 and holding opponents to just 102.4 points per game, which is the fifth-best mark in the NBA. Their +7.4 net rating also ranks fourth in the league.

In the last two games, Chicago demolished the Eastern Conference favorite Brooklyn Nets and handled the Dallas Mavericks with relative ease. It’s all gelling together seamlessly for the Bulls, but COVID-19 is trying to stop them in their tracks.

Bulls suffer untimely COVID-19 blow to Nikola Vucevic

Nikola Vucevic is expected to miss at least 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19.
Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic reacts against the Detroit Pistons | Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Vucevic hasn’t played up to his usual level thus far this season. The All-Star center is scoring 13.6 points and grabbing 10.9 rebounds per game while shooting a career-low 39.5% from the field and just 26.7% from three. But even with his struggles on the offensive end, he’s been an integral piece of Chicago’s pesky defense, and he’s coming off one of his best performances of the year with 18 points and 10 rebounds against the Mavs.

But Vucevic will be watching the next few games from home, as the center entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Thursday after testing positive for COVID-19, as first reported by K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Vucevic will now be out of the lineup for the next 10 days or if he produces two negative tests in a 24-hour period.

How will Chicago make up for Vucevic’s absence?

The Bulls aren’t exactly deep at the center position this year. They only have three players on the roster taller than 6-foot-7, and Vucevic has played a majority of the center minutes so far. With Patrick Williams out for at least four months due to a wrist injury, that only compounds the problem.

Backup center Tony Bradley will most likely take Vucevic’s place in the starting lineup for the next few games. He’s played just 10 minutes per game in eight appearances and hasn’t contributed much on the offensive end. It’ll be up to LaVine, DeRozan, and Ball to make up for Vucevic’s absence in the scoring column.

But with Anthony Davis, Jusuf Nurkic, and Nikola Jokic on the schedule over the next 10 days, the Bulls will need to play complete team defense if they want to avoid getting crushed down low.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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