Nikola Mirotic’s streak ends at seven games as Bulls fall to the Cavs

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CLEVELAND — Nikola Mirotic’s prediction service will be closed for several days.

That means no “Niko’s back’’ exclamations after the 115-112 loss Thursday to the Cavaliers that snapped the Bulls’ seven-game winning streak.

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It was Mirotic’s first defeat since his season debut more than two weeks ago, a cruel reminder of the difference between the title-contending Cavaliers and the rebuilding Bulls.

“I think we have a lot of talent and a lot of young guys who are playing amazing,’’ Mirotic said. “What everyone has to expect from us and what we need to do each night is give our best. At least that’s what we can do.

‘‘These last eight games, we’ve been playing way better on both sides, offensively and defensively. I think we’re going to continue to grow as a group and build from this moment.’’

At least that’s the hope, not just from Mirotic but the entire roster.

The last time the Bulls (10-21) faced the Cavaliers on Dec. 4, they were embarrassed. The Cavs strolled into the United Center and demolished the hometown team 113-91.

And it wasn’t even that close.

This game came down to the last possession. The Bulls had the ball down by three, but Denzel Valentine was forced into tossing up a prayer at the horn that hit nothing but air.

“It was a play where Lauri [Markkanen] was coming off a screen, but they played it well,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“They switched everything, and Denzel was the open man on the backside. It’s just unfortunate that we didn’t get a better look than that.’’

Hoiberg, however, wasn’t going to point fingers on that last possession, especially after what happened at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Bulls started the fourth down by only three points, but within two minutes, they found themselves down by 10.

“We lost that game at the beginning of the fourth quarter,’’ Hoiberg said. “We had four straight turnovers coming out of the gate to start the fourth and allowed them to get a run going.

“I give our guys credit for battling back. That team is as hot as any in the league right now, having won 18 of 20 coming in, and I thought we battled them, stood toe-to-toe with them and gave ourselves a chance to win. We’ll take some positives, but you’ve got to learn from what we did to start that fourth.’’

LeBron James didn’t make matters any easier.

He had a game-high 34 points, including a wicked turnaround fadeaway with 1:01 left over Kris Dunn that put the Cavs (24-9) up by six.

Mirotic made a three-pointer, then Valentine’s layup cut the deficit to a point with 14.3 seconds left, but James made two free throws with 11 seconds left.

The first play out of the timeout was disrupted by Dwyane Wade, giving the Bulls one more chance, but Valentine couldn’t shake Jae Crowder and was forced into the ugly long-range jumper.

Valentine did finish with 18 points, and Markkanen led the Bulls with 25.

“We came here, and we competed,’’ Mirotic said. “We just need to be proud. We need to go with our heads up to Boston. We gave our best, and we just need to continue.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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