In the wake of his team's ninth win in its past 11 games, a 92-87 triumph over the New York Knicks on Wednesday night, Chicago Bulls forward Niko Mirotic acknowledged that his and Bobby Portis' handling of an ugly preseason practice incident has been "huge" for the streaking group that continues to surprise the NBA. Portis knocked out Mirotic on Oct. 17 with a punch that left the young forward with a concussion and facial fractures and caused him to miss the first 23 games of the season. The Bulls were 3-20 without Mirotic and are now 9-2 with him back on the floor. Mirotic, who is averaging career highs of 18.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game this season, knows that his and Portis' ability to coexist again has been a catalyst for the group. "I think it was huge," Mirotic told ESPN on Wednesday night. "I think it was huge because people didn't know how we were going to act because it was a tough moment obviously for all of us, especially for me. But I think [up to now] we've handled it well. We've tried to be professional. That was really important for the guys because we kind of tried to stick together. And being back was a great [thing] for me, for my teammates. Right now we are all looking forward for Zach [LaVine] to be back, and we could be complete again. I think we're going to be in really good shape." The Bulls' surprising turn this season is made even more impressive given that Mirotic and Portis have had little to no contact off the floor. For weeks, the Bulls' front office and coaching staff were hopeful that the two forwards would be able to talk to each other about the incident, but Portis admitted that he called and texted Mirotic to apologize but never heard back from his teammate. Portis, who was suspended for the first eight games of the season by the Bulls, is having the best season of his young career, averaging 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, both career highs. Although the pair still isn't communicating much off the floor, they have found a camaraderie on it, routinely fist bumping each other and high-fiving after one of them makes a big play.
Bulls' hot stretch sparked by Niko Mirotic's and Bobby Portis' handling of preseason altercation
ESPN | Dec 28