Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic says he expects to make season debut this week

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Nikola Mirotic has met with reporters twice in the last week. It finally sounds as if talking time is over.

Sidelined with a concussion and two broken bones in his face courtesy of a punch from Bobby Portis during an altercation in practice, Mirotic said Sunday that he’s ready to start playing basketball again, and likely will do so within the next few games.

“We don’t know the exact date yet, but it’s going to be day by day,’’ Mirotic said. “But we’re expecting to be back, hopefully, this week.’’

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The Bulls host the Cavaliers on Monday, and it seems to be a long shot that Mirotic will return in that game. The team then will take a two-city trip to Indiana and Charlotte. That’s when Mirotic is plotting his regular-season debut.

“The only preference is when I’m back, I’m ready to play,’’ Mirotic said. “I could be there but not truly in good form. But the goal is when I’m back, I’m ready to help the team.’’

Considering the Bulls have lost eight in a row and are 3-18, Mirotic’s help definitely is needed.

“We’ve got some ideas,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said when asked how Mirotic would be used. “With Bobby [Portis] out with the arm contusion last game, Cris [Felicio] gave us good, quality minutes.

“Paul Zipser [also is] playing with a lot more confidence. Even though he didn’t make a shot against Miami, I thought he looked really good. And then we put him back out there against Denver, and he had a solid game.

“The big thing is to just continue to see what things look like with the rotation and practices and, obviously, in the game, and then try to put the best groups out there on the floor.’’

A return by Mirotic also would be big for the front office, which clearly remains sensitive to the situation, including Mirotic’s camp issuing an ultimatum to the Bulls that Portis would go or Mirotic would want out.

Though there is no indication from Mirotic that he wants to stay with the Bulls in the long term, they at least would have him on the floor in the short term while hoping to get Mirotic and Portis to meet and hash out their issues.

Neither player has indicated that a meeting would be realistic anytime soon, especially with Mirotic’s refusing to speak to Portis away from the court and willing to just keep the relationship “professional.’’

Sources indicated that the Bulls have received almost zero interest in either player on the trade market, so that’s not a real option.

The best-case scenario is for Mirotic to return, play well and then revisit the ultimatum and the trade market come mid-January, when the stretch-four would be eligible to be moved.

“Niko’s in great spirits,’’ -Hoiberg said. “Again, the important thing is to get him back in basketball shape. He and Bobby have had their moments together since he’s been back on the practice court. They’ve practiced with each other on the same team, and they’ve also gone against each other. I do think that’s behind us now.

“The important thing is just going out, concentrating and -focusing on basketball.”

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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