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Bulls big man Robin Lopez deserved better on his birthday than loss to Knicks

NEW YORK — Robin Lopez’s teammates for most of the Bulls’ game Monday against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden were three G-Leaguers, a couple of castoffs from other organizations, a French guy with a really long name and Cristiano Felicio.

Happy birthday, big guy. Go get ’em.

But while the 113-105 loss to the Knicks might not have been the best present, the 31-year-old Lopez didn’t make a single negative statement or point a finger at anyone. That’s the mentality he has showcased for at least two seasons now.

‘‘First and foremost, I enjoy the people we have in and around this locker room,’’ Lopez said when he was asked why he hasn’t voiced a single complaint in the last couple of years. ‘‘I think part of it is they’ve shown me a lot of respect.’’

When asked what he meant by ‘‘they’’ — whether it was the Bulls’ organization or his teammates — Lopez responded: ‘‘Both. So I’m trying to show them a little respect, too.’’

He has done more than that. If there’s one Bulls player who has exemplified loyalty, it has been Lopez.

He has been unfairly benched for tanking purposes, lost his job to a rookie, was asked to mentor that rookie, squashed a silly two-man coup and, having a chance to join the Warriors with a buyout last month, didn’t ask the front office to let him go elsewhere.

‘‘As far as the buyout goes, I feel that there’s kind of a contract there,’’ Lopez said. ‘‘And you want to respect that a little bit.’’

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Is Lopez a throwback or simply one-of-a-kind in a business of selfishness? As far as coach Jim Boylen is concerned, the sacrifices Lopez has made won’t — and shouldn’t — be forgotten.

‘‘He’s had a helluva year, first of all, in a lot of ways,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘What he’s meant to me is a veteran guy that cares about the team. He cares about practice. He cares about improving. We have our batting practice before, we have our extra innings after, and he embraces those moments as a veteran to get better. We’ve asked him to improve in some areas and grow, even in his 10th year, which the league is all about. Great players add stuff and grow, and he’s done that.

‘‘The willingness to be coached, the willingness to take responsibility for poor play, those are all things we talk about. Those are things that are important for an NBA team to have examples of, and he’s been that guy. He’s feisty, he’s tough, he embraces contact, he likes collision and we like those kinds of guys. He’s been great on all levels. His professionalism has never waned, and I’ve appreciated that about him.’’

In a game that saw G-Leaguer JaKarr Sampson score 22 points in his Bulls debut, the entire traveling party was glad to see Lopez go out and score a season-high 29 points on his birthday.

Lopez had a chance to reach a career-high 31 points with two free throws with 31.1 seconds left, but he missed them both.

‘‘Yeah, I was pretty aware — all too aware,’’ Lopez said when he was asked whether he knew what the free throws would have meant.

Even after missing the first one, however, he still had a chance to tie his career high on his birthday.

‘‘How I could have made it a nice, round number?’’ Lopez said. ‘‘Yeah, of course. Them’s the breaks.’’