Hawks teach Bulls lesson in art of tanking

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Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic has his shot blocked by Hawks forward John Collins on Saturday in Atlanta. |
John Bazemore/AP

ATLANTA — The Hawks went 11-for-48 from three-point range.

They used 13 players, including someone named Josh Magette.

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Their apathy was on full display for 48 minutes.

Take note, Bulls front office, now that’s how you tank away a season.

Led by a game-high 20 points from Robin Lopez, the Bulls kept Atlanta in perfect position to have the most Ping-Pong balls in the lottery with a 113-97 road victory Saturday.

Asked after the game if the Hawks had mastered the art of the tank much better than the Bulls, coach Fred Hoiberg dodged the question.

“We built a double-digit lead right out of the gate, and I thought that was important for this game,’’ Hoiberg said. “Overall, a really complete performance by our guys, and hopefully we can keep it going.’’

Hoiberg then pivoted and tried to pump up the Hawks: “They had three really good wins in their last four games — over San Antonio, New Orleans and at Denver — so this team was playing really, real-ly good basketball. We knew we had to play with great effort if we wanted to have a chance to win this game.’’

Nice try, but, like the Bulls (18-28) at the start of the season, the Hawks’ front office has put a product on the court that faces a talent deficit on a nightly basis.

The big difference is the Bulls’ young players have grown up quicker than anticipated, while the Hawks (13-32) remain the same hot mess they were when training camp ended.

Once the Bulls jumped out to a 13-point lead in the first quarter, it felt like a go-through-the-motions game for the Hawks the rest of the way.

“We knew it was going to be an important game for us after a tough loss to Golden State [on Wednesday],’’ forward Nikola Mirotic said. “That [loss] gave us the confidence that we can beat any team in this league.’’

But will Mirotic finish the road trip with the Bulls? The trade deadline is Feb. 8, and rumors are heating up. Mirotic wants to play elsewhere, especially with a contender.

Bulls management, however, can be patient as it waits for a deal that can benefit the organization.

“It’s part of the business to actively see if there’s anything out there to improve your team obviously in the long term, and that’s what it’s all about with our group right now,’’ Hoiberg said when asked if Bulls general manager Gar Forman or vice president of basketball operations John Paxson had updated him on any trade talks.

“Right now, we’ve got a young team, one of the younger teams in the league, and generally teams like that are very active around the trade deadline.

‘‘But the other thing is that all these rumors that are out there right now, most of them are just rumors.’’

Mirotic isn’t the only trade candidate on the Bulls’ roster. Lopez and Justin Holiday also are possibilities, and Hoiberg indicated that dialogue with the front office will continue throughout the process.

“There is communication,’’ Hoiberg said. “Yeah, we talk, sure.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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