Nothing is promised to Nikola Mirotic in the fourth quarter.
However, he has at least put himself in position to be on the floor in those situations, especially in the last month.
Mirotic was named the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month on Friday. He averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 30.8 minutes in March. Mirotic also led the NBA in fourth-quarter points with 136.
“He’s learning playing teams for a third and fourth time now, but his opponents are also studying him, so he has to continue to grow,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And then defensively, that’s the big thing. To concentrate on those areas as well.’’
That said, Thibodeau maintained that Mirotic will play late in games based on performance.
“You’ve gotta go on performance, so we’ll see how it unfolds,’’ Thibodeau said. “Right now, you look at the entire season. Who is playing well and who is going to fit best together? And you also have to look on both sides of the ball, so we’ll see how it unfolds.’’
As for Mirotic, he’s just keeping it simple. Awards are nice, and the late-season push for NBA Rookie of the Year honors is flattering, but the big man is just looking to improve.
“Of course, it was really tough in the beginning of the season, but now I’m playing with more confidence,’’ Mirotic said. “I know how I should play right now. The more experience you get in the NBA, it’s a good thing. My teammates are trying to help me every single day. They’re trusting me, they’re pushing me to really perform. What I can do every day is to be here, helping us win games.
“I know my rhythm is better because I’m getting more minutes. If I’m here, it’s for one reason, because I’m ready. That’s why I came here [to the NBA from the Spanish League]. Of course, I’ll have to improve a lot of things, like my defense. I’m working at that every day.’’
Derrick Rose (right knee) still was out Friday against the Pistons. Kirk Hinrich (hyperextended left knee) was listed as questionable earlier in the day before being ruled out.
Doug McDermott (back) returned, and Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler continued to find their rhythm. They’ve been back almost two weeks from their injuries.
Thibodeau said Butler especially was on the fast track back to where he was before he missed a good part of March with an injured elbow.
“I think he’s working his way there,’’ Thibodeau said. “I thought he played well in the [game Wednesday in Milwaukee]. But he’s got to get past those injuries.’’