Nikola Mirotic sends message to his teammates that they need to get him the ball

SHARE Nikola Mirotic sends message to his teammates that they need to get him the ball

This is the new Nikola Mirotic.

Like it or not.


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He was thrilled with the Bulls’ comeback Wednesday against the Knicks, but only because it ended in victory.

If the Bulls had fallen short, Mirotic, who only took four shots, would’ve had a serious problem with the goings-on.

In 25 minutes, Mirotic went 2-for-4 from the field for four points and grabbed eight rebounds. It was by far his least prolific shooting night since he returned from injury 11 games ago, going all the way back to his season debut on Dec. 8 in which he shot 2-for-7.

“[The Knicks] did a really good job on Niko,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They really crowded him and made it difficult.’’

Mirotic acknowledged that as well.

The Knicks denied him the ball when he was on the outside and blitzed him on the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop to force him to give up the ball.

But Mirotic also had a message for his teammates for future reference.

“[Wednesday night], it was really hard to even see the ball,’’ Mirotic said. “My guys really held on me, they closed hard on me the entire game, but I think it’s something I need to get used to. At the same time, when they guard me like that, the team needs to be able to find me, so that I can get my shots.’’

In some corners, he might be deemed selfish, but Mirotic was actually on to something.

His season has been as crazy as any in the NBA. After being punched in the face by teammate Bobby Portis on Oct. 17, Mirotic missed almost seven weeks of the regular season while recovering from a concussion and two broken facial bones.

He returned to a team that had the NBA’s worst record at 3-20 and promptly ignited one of the biggest turnarounds in the league — the Bulls are 9-2 in their last 11 games.

During that span, Mirotic is averaging a team-high 17.2 points and chipping in 7.6 rebounds in 25.5 minutes. He’s also averaging 12.1 shots.

So getting only four against New York didn’t sit well with Mirotic, especially considering that he added extra muscle this offseason to be a factor in the post.

If opposing teams want to play the deny game, then he wants his teammates to realize there are other options.

“I need to make the adjustment, and the team needs to make it, too, because when I can’t do anything in the pick-and-pop, then they need to find me in the low post or in a different action,’’ Mirotic said.

The underlying factor is that Mirotic can freely say what’s on his mind because he knows he’s in a win-win situation. He sends the message to his teammates, and if it rubs the locker room the wrong way, so be it.

Mirotic isn’t averse to a trade and recently reiterated to the front office that he’d waive his no-trade clause.

Until then, however, he wants to make sure his teammates understand there are other ways for him to score.

“Post,’’ Mirotic said of that other option. “When someone is trying to deny you the entire time, I should be able to go in the low post, and they need to try to find me there.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.


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