Bulls now 2-0 with Nikola Mirotic, and he wasn’t shy about saying it

SHARE Bulls now 2-0 with Nikola Mirotic, and he wasn’t shy about saying it

Things didn’t look good for the Bulls going into the game: a missing pilot, bad weather, a canceled flight. The team was trapped in Charlotte 12 hours longer than expected with the well-rested Knicks awaiting Saturday night.

Rather than dwell on the negatives, the Bulls accomplished something — consecutive victories — they hadn’t achieved all season.


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Sparked by 19 points from Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls beat the Knicks 104-102 at the United Center, improving their record to 5-20.

After the victory Friday night against the Hornets, the Bulls headed to the airport, hoping to arrive home by midnight. But things got a little hairy.

“We all got to the plane and thought we were going to get out of there, and it sounds like our pilot was on a commercial flight that ended up getting canceled,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “So we found out that he wasn’t going to make it in. Everybody was just starting to get their food, so we finished up and had to find a way to get rooms. We ended up getting back to the [Charlotte] hotel after midnight, and we just did our preparation back at the hotel.

“[Saturday] morning, it was the same thing with a pilot. We ended up getting out of there around 11:30 or so. Got back just after 2. It’s something that teams deal with in this league.’’

As for the game, a turnover by Mirotic gave the Knicks the ball with 20.9 seconds left, down two points. Kristaps Porzingis made a midrange jumper with 7.4 seconds left, leaving the Bulls with plenty of time to get the last laugh.

Kris Dunn was fouled on a drive and made both free throws with 2.9 seconds to go. Porzingis got off a last-second three-pointer, but it rimmed out.

There were plenty of heads to pat afterward with six players in double figures, but Mirotic stood out. The Bulls are 2-0 since his return, and he made sure that fact wasn’t overlooked.

“There’s no coincidence here,’’ Mirotic said. “I said to [assistant coach] Randy Brown before the Charlotte game that we were going to win that game, and he said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because I’m back.’ And we won that game. Today I told him, too, ‘Randy, we’re going to be 2-0.’ He said, ‘Niko, I trust you.’ We’re 2-0. There’s no coincidence.’’

It’s tough to argue against Mirotic, considering he went 5-for-8 from three-point range.

“He’s been really good both nights,’’ Hoiberg said. “Last night, he didn’t shoot it great. But he gave us an edge on the defensive end. You can see it. He knows where to be. He’s in the right position. He’s engaged in his stance. He came up with a couple of key rebounds. He’s a guy who has been playing this game for a long time at a high level. To get that type of player back is huge.’’

Even more impressive was that Mirotic played a lot of his minutes with Bobby Portis, who changed Mirotic’s season when he put him in the hospital Oct. 17 after a practice altercation.

“I think he and Bobby have been terrific together in that second unit,’’ Hoiberg said. “Both of them have been productive both nights.’’

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