Nikola Mirotic no longer has a starting job to come back to

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Nikola Mirotic’s season didn’t get any better Wednesday.

Even though Mirotic won a starting forward spot out of training camp, coach Fred Hoiberg made it clear that the spot is no longer his even when he’s healthy again.

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Rookie Lauri Markkanen will keep the spot for the foreseeable future.

“[Markkanen] has done a lot of really good things,’’ Hoiberg said. “He has shown early on that he won’t back down from anybody. He has played really solid basketball. He’s a tough kid who can make shots and is a versatile player. So, yeah, I would say Lauri is our starter moving forward.’’

It’s a second blow for Mirotic in the last month, and no fists were involved this time.

On Oct. 17, Mirotic’s season completely changed after teammate Bobby Portis punched him in the face during practice, breaking two bones and sending him to a hospital with a concussion.

Portis was suspended the first eight games; Mirotic is just starting to put up shots on the court.

Down two forwards, Markkanen, the seventh overall pick in June, emerged as one of the Bulls’ few go-to players.

In a 92-79 one-sided loss to the Thunder, Markkanen was one of the few Bulls to show up, scoring 16 points in 32 minutes.

Portis’ punch might have been a blessing in disguise for Markkanen, 20, who didn’t shy away from that assertion.

“I mean, it gave me a bigger chance right away, an opportunity with those two out, but I’m glad to have Bobby back and hopefully Niko back,’’ Markkanen said.

“It’s the same thing that happened to me before that. Someone goes down, and I got a bigger opportunity.’’

Hoiberg’s comment that the starting job was his was news to Markkanen.

“We haven’t talked about it,’’ Markkanen said. “I’ve got to do my work on the court and prove that I can be a starter, but we haven’t talked about that.’’

Then again, Hoiberg has more than enough on his plate these days, trying to get his 2-10 team to understand the concept of 48 minutes of basketball.

It’s something the Bulls have struggled with for three consecutive games, especially in the first quarter.

As was the case in losses to the Pacers and Spurs, the first 12 minutes were a disaster against Oklahoma City. The Bulls were outscored 27-7, a franchise record for first-quarter ineptitude.

“We just didn’t play a smart game, in the first half especially,’’ Hoiberg said. “You don’t give yourself a chance when you come out of the gate with these types of starts.’’

Point guard Kris Dunn’s first start for the Bulls wasn’t exactly memorable.

He went 1-for-11 from the field. Not that Jerian Grant made a case for himself, either, as he shot 1-for-5 from the field with four turnovers.

“We’re struggling right now [at point guard],’’ Hoiberg said. “We’ve got to find a way to get our point guards out there making plays.

“We’ll keep working with them.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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