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Nikola Mirotic now must build off performance in Cleveland to ease some minds

The Bulls would like to welcome Nikola Mirotic back to the 2015-16 season.

Now, the hope is the second-year player can stay awhile.

“I’m not shooting the ball well,’’ Mirotic said of his recent struggles. “I’m not feeling the same confidence like I was feeling before, but it could happen. So I need to be strong, I need to work hard, and I need to trust in myself because I know that I could play better. Sometimes I think it’s not going well even if you’re working hard in practice, workouts, but I need to find a way.’’

At least for one game on Saturday night, a way was found.

Mirotic’s 17 points in the 96-83 win in Cleveland were huge. Not just because it helped the Bulls end a two-game losing streak, but it helped Mirotic find a bit of confidence once again. No easy feat considering how poorly he was playing over the last few weeks.

Before the showdown with the Cavs, Mirotic came into the game shooting 15-for-56 (27 percent) from the field in his last seven games, as well as 7-for-25 (28 percent) from the three-point line. Throw in 13 turnovers along the way in that span. Even worse, however, was his defense, or there lack of.

There were two games – Dallas and Golden State – where Mirotic was basically unusable by head coach Fred Hoiberg. That’s why his minutes were cut down to 15 and 14, respectively.

But just when it seemed like Mirotic was putting himself into position to be a match-up only rotation player, along came the Cavs game.

Not just 17 points in 25 minutes played, but 5-for-9 shooting and 3-for-5 from three, grabbing six rebounds on top of it.

“Niko, going back and watching that first game of the year when we played Cleveland, Niko led us in scoring that game with 19,’’ Hoiberg said. “It’s so big for us when he’s out there knocking down shots. Not only scoring the ball, but spacing the floor where teams won’t come off of him when we’re running our ball-screen actions, and he was terrific. I thought he battled on the other end as well, got us into our coverages, and making those shots was huge.’’

Why so much focus on Mirotic?

The 6-foot-10 stretch-four is considered one of the core players the Bulls have moving forward. Joakim Noah is a free agent after this season, while Pau Gasol has already stated that he would opt out of the final year of his deal and test the market.

The depth in the Bulls frontcourt is about to take a hit, and if Mirotic is exposed as a player that can’t be relied on, it would be a huge setback in the plans of VP of basketball operations John Paxson, as well as general manager Gar Forman.

While the Cleveland game stopped the bleeding for Mirotic, it also allowed the organization to take a deep breath.

“I need to stay positive,’’ Mirotic said. “I need to forget what happened yesterday, what happened last week. … I know I need to be strong.’’

The Bulls play Miami Monday night, and the hope is Saturday was a reminder of what he is capable of.

“Niko had a great game,’’ teammate Taj Gibson said. “He got his stroke [Saturday] night]. These games are the booster games that help guys overcome the hurdles from the past. I hope we can all just keep pushing forward.’’