Bulls get Nikola Mirotic back in the rotation but lose Taj Gibson

SHARE Bulls get Nikola Mirotic back in the rotation but lose Taj Gibson

The Bulls finally had a healthy roster on Tuesday.

Well, for about five hours.

After the morning shootaround, coach Fred Hoiberg gladly announced that Nikola Mirotic was finally over a flu-like illness that cost the stretch-four eight pounds and four games. By the time the team reconvened for the pregame workout however, power forward Taj Gibson’s left ankle went from sore to unplayable.

“It’s something that kind of popped up,’’ Hoiberg said. “He did have a little bit of soreness in the [Memphis] game. Again, it’s not to the point where you’re going to say that this is something that’s going to hold him out awhile. We hope to sit him, have a couple days off for rest, and then get him back in the lineup in the next one [against Atlanta on Friday].’’

Coincidentally, the sore ankle was the same one that Gibson had offseason surgery on before the 2015-16 season.

So while Hoiberg may have tried to pass it off as a separate issue, Gibson’s ankle problems have never seemingly been separate. The hope is that this is just a bump in the road and not a sign of bigger problems ahead. Gibson, who will be a free agent this summer, had played in all 42 games and was the team’s third leading scorer (12 points per game).

In his absence, the Bulls started rookie Paul Zipser.

The Bulls considered starting Mirotic, but decided that easing him back in over the next few games would help him get his wind back.

“The biggest thing is building the strength back up,’’ Hoiberg said. “I think he lost eight pounds with the virus he had. Now it’s about getting him back in game shape and getting his timing back.’’

Hoiberg reiterated that Mirotic was dealing with a different strain of illness than Jimmy Butler, who missed two games and dropped 10 pounds from his illness, but picked up right where he left off.

“Obviously, Jimmy was unbelievable,’’ Hoiberg said. “The one luxury Jimmy had was he had a full practice where we scrimmaged, went up and down. He was able to blow out his lungs a little bit. We haven’t had that opportunity yet with Niko. He did some conditioning and running on his own. We have to gradually get him back as we continue to move forward.’’


Butler was thrilled to have Mirotic back, and thinks that the third-year player’s inconsistencies will end soon because of all the extra work he’s been doing in the gym over the last month.

“Another guy that we love having out there on the floor, a guy that can make shots, space the floor,’’ Butler said, despite the fact that Mirotic was only shooting 38 percent from the field. “I think he’s consistent. If he stays in the gym, it’s only going to come easier.’’

Birthday wishes

Dwyane Wade turned 35 on Tuesday, and Butler claimed he had a special present for his new teammate: “I’m gonna punch him 35 times and give him one to grow on,’’ Butler said.

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Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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