Nikola Mirotic continues playing his way out of a starting job

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INDIANAPOLIS – Fred Hoiberg swears that Nikola Mirotic has had a good camp.

No, make that “a great camp.’’

That’s how the Bulls coach described it to be exact.

Well, it’s definitely not translating.

That was again on full display in the Thursday 115-108 loss to Indiana, as Mirotic looked like he was playing in his first ever NBA game, scoring just four points and making bad play after bad play.

To make matters worse, Mirotic, who is competing with Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis for the starting power forward spot, was taking his turn to work with the first unit and did so to underwhelming results. By the end of the game, Mirotic was 1-for-7 from the field, looked shaky on defense, and had two turnovers.

And while the 25 year old swears that he’s not feeling the pressure of this being his walk year into free agency, his first two preseason games have resembled that of a guy playing with a lot of weight on his shoulders.

“I know how important this season is, the third year, it’s time to step up,’’ Mirotic said. “Your first year you’re a rookie, second year now they are expecting more, so you improve a little bit, but I’m still not satisfied yet with my game. I know it could have been much better, and that’s why my goal this year is to go out there each game and try and play consistent.

“I can’t have the ups and downs I had last year because now it’s time to show. Time to show my teammates, show the front office, show my coaches that I’m really ready for that.’’

He might very well be when the lights turn on for the start of the regular season, and maybe that’s why he jokingly asked for the Mulligan for his first two preseason showings. But that’s not going to help Mirotic win a starting job, especially with Gibson again playing at a high level, scoring 10 points and plus-eight in the plus/minus category against Indiana.

“I think everyone here would like to be a starter, that’s obvious, but I think we’re here for one reason and that’s to make this team better,’’ Mirotic said. “So whatever Fred decides, whatever Fred thinks is the best for the team, I’m going to respect because I’m a player, he’s the coach, and he’s going to know what’s the best for us.

“He knows I’m going to respect whatever he decides. So for me, Bobby and Taj, if it’s the best for the team it’s our job to go out and make this something special.’’

Good thing for Mirotic that a decision doesn’t have to be made anytime soon. The loss to the Pacers dropped the new-look Bulls to 0-2 in exhibition play, but with five dress rehearsal games left Mirotic can still state his case.

“The big thing with Niko is just getting his confidence back,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s going to be the first guy in the gym [Friday morning], I can promise you that, working on his shot. It’s just about going out there and getting the lid off that basket, and once he does that I’m confident in Niko that he’ll be off and running, so that’s what it’s about sometimes with shooters. Playing with confidence, playing with a swagger, and we think Niko can get that back soon.’’

Mirotic was on the same page with his coach.

“The most important thing for me is those shots are good decisions,’’ Mirotic said. “I have to keep shooting.’’

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