Bulls guard Alex Caruso will listen to his body, but a left ankle injury puts status in doubt for Friday’s game in Miami

CHICAGO — Alex Caruso’s status for the Chicago Bulls’ play-in tournament game Friday in Miami is in jeopardy after a left ankle injury was deemed a “significant” sprain, according to ESPN.

Caruso spent a long time getting treatment on the ankle after Wednesday’s 131-116 win over the Atlanta Hawks at the United Center that set up the rematch of last year’s game against the Heat in Miami, which ended the Bulls season.

Coach Billy Donovan decided to take Caruso out in the third quarter after seeing him “hobbled” after the injury, which occurred when big man Andre Drummond stepped on Caruso’s right foot.

“To close the second quarter he said to me, ‘Listen I’m going to try to go here and I’ll let you know,’ ” Donovan said. “I thought he was a little bit hobbled and I grabbed him before the third started and he said, ‘Let me give it just a little more try.’

“I just didn’t like the way he (was moving). He didn’t ask to come out, but I don’t think he felt like he could move.’”

Donovan decided it was better to be extra cautious and let Caruso sit after scoring six points on two 3-pointers in 17 1/2 minutes. The Bulls held off a stubborn Hawks team behind Coby White’s 42 points and some stellar defense and eventually cruised to an easy win.

“It was the same one I’d been dealing with the last couple weeks of the season that we’d been managing and figuring out,” Caruso said of the injury afterward. “I tried to tape it up, take some more time when I got out there and I was kind of ineffective, so it was probably better to have some of those guys finish the game. And they did a great job.”

Caruso said he would continue to get treatment and “just roll with it.” He added that his right foot was OK in spite of the collision with Drummond’s foot and he expected to be ready to play Friday.

“My mindset will be to play until my body tells me I can’t,” Caruso said.

A win would put the Bulls back in the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2022, when they lost a first-round series 4-1 to the Milwaukee Bucks. If they beat the Heat, the Bulls would take on the top-seeded Boston Celtics starting Sunday at TD Garden.

Losing Caruso, one of the league’s best defensive players, would be a significant blow for the Bulls in a win-or-go-home game. Donovan said Caruso’s defense “set the tone” against the Hawks.

“He got through and under and around and kind of disrupted (the Hawks) a little bit,” he said.

The Hawks finished the game 30% from 3-point range as Trae Young was held to 4-of-12 shooting.

The loss of Heat star Jimmy Butler to an MCL sprain, as reported by ESPN, could give the Bulls the edge in a rematch of last year’s play-in game, which the Bulls had in hand until Butler took over in the final minutes. Unlike the Hawks, the Heat rely on defensive pressure and Butler is considered one of the league’s best playoff performers.

“They do a lot of things really really well,” Donovan said of the Heat. “At this point in time, it’s not a series — it’s a one-game series, so to speak.

“You try to prepare as much as you can in a 36-hour window, but the ultimate reality is it’s going to be (winning) loose balls, it’s going to be hustle plays, it’s going to be physicality plays. Both teams shoot 50 percent, (so) you’re probably talking about 50 missed shots by both teams. That’s a lot of loose balls.”

Caruso’s hustle and ability to come up with loose balls is what makes him so valuable and beloved in Chicago, but it’s also why he’s so fragile. Forfeiting his body for the sake of the team is second nature to him, and after three seasons Donovan seemingly has become resigned to the fact Caruso can’t change his game to protect his health.

But if his body tells him he can’t go, Caruso has to listen to it, as difficult as that might be for a competitor with his mindset in another win-or-else game.