- The Chicago Bulls are on a six-game winning streak that has coincided with the return of Nikola Mirotic.
- Miroti missed the first 23 games of the season after being punched in the face by teammate Bobby Portis.
- Mirotic is putting together a career year so far and has sparked a Bulls team that appeared to be tanking.
The Chicago Bulls are one of the hottest teams in the NBA at the moment, riding a six-game winning streak that was extended on Monday with a 117-115 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The streak has coincided with the return of forward Nikola Mirotic, who returned to game action on December 8 and has been a catalyst since then.
Mirotic’s season got off to a bumpy start when he got into an altercation with Bulls big man Bobby Portis. Portis punched Mirotic in the face, sending him to the hospital with a concussion and several facial fractures. The Bulls suspended Portis for eight games while Mirotic missed the first eight weeks of the season.
Everything in between the altercation and Mirotic’s return was ugly. Mirotic’s camp reportedly demanded the team traded him or Portis. As Mirotic, who signed a two-year, $27 million deal this offseason, returned to the team from the hospital, he was still not speaking to Portis.
However, once Mirotic got back on the court, something strange happened with the Bulls – they began winning.
Mirotic himself has been a spark, averaging 20 points and 7 rebounds per game on 52% shooting, 50% from three, all career-highs. Over that span, the Bulls rank 11th in offensive rating and fourth in defensive rating, outscoring teams by nearly eight points per 100 possessions, the fourth-best mark in the league.
Even more coincidental, the pairing of Portis and Mirotic on the court has been lethal for the Bulls, as they’ve outscored teams by 18.8 points per 100 possessions in 74 minutes together.
Both Portis and Mirotic are shooting career-highs from the three-point line. Put them on the floor together, and opponents have to deal with two pick-and-pop options.
The inside-outside versatility of both players works in some instances.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg praised the confidence Mirotic has brought to the Bulls.
“Niko has brought a confidence to this team,” Hoiberg said. “You see our bench really rallying behind him when he’s out there making plays. You see the guys on the floor celebrating together when he makes the big plays … When you’ve got guys out there playing with confidence, that rubs off on the whole team.”
Mirotic told reporters recently that he and Portis aren’t speaking off the floor, though he publicly accepted Portis’ apology when he returned to the team.
There are some who may not be happy about the Bulls win streak. The team clearly went into this season in rebuild mode, with the goal of getting a top draft pick. At 9-20, they’re far from playoff contention in the Eastern Conference, but with several intriguing draft prospects this season, fans may not want the Bulls to climb too far out of the doldrums.
Mirotic’s strong play only adds to a list of surprising developments for this Bulls team. The returns from the Jimmy Butler trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves look better and better with time. No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen looks like a gifted scorer and Kris Dunn is putting together a solid second season at point guard after a miserable rookie year. The team is still waiting for the return of Zach LaVine from ACL surgery, but he figures to play into the team’s long-term plans when he does return.
Suddenly, this Bulls team has a core of young, unique, and promising players to build around. Mirotic’s scoring has suddenly given them something to rally around.