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Bobby Portis has put Oct. 17 behind him, even if road fans haven’t

SALT LAKE CITY – Bobby Portis still isn’t running away from what he did.

Fans on the road make sure of that, eagerly bringing up the punching incident whenever possible.

But Portis is hearing the noise less and less.

In the Bulls’ locker room, it’s hardly a topic these days.

Coach Fred Hoiberg freely gives medical updates on Nikola Mirotic, but no longer discusses the Oct. 17 altercation during practice that featured Portis punching Mirotic, breaking two bones in his face and sending him to the hospital with a concussion.

The latest medical update?

“It’s light, but he’s ramping it up every day,’’ Hoiberg said of the shooting Mirotic is doing in Chicago at the Advocate Center. “Every day he’s increasing his range. It’s just a mental process for Niko as well. The important thing is he’s continuing to grow and get better.’’

Portis has grown from the incident, too.

No, he and Mirotic have still not spoken, and maybe they never will, but Portis, who remains popular with teammates, has turned his focus to the court. Everything else is secondary.

“I don’t like to take losses, but [against the Lakers] we got a glimpse of what we can be,’’ Portis said. “It was pretty, man. For three quarters it was pretty basketball, ball movement, everybody into it, the coaches into it, everybody locked in together.

“I feel like we can be a good team in the future with all the pieces that we have and everybody starting to come together.’’

Maybe, but not without growing pains.

That was clear Wednesday night in a 110-80 loss to the Jazz, dropping the Bulls to 3-12 overall and 0-3 on this four-game trip that concludes Friday against the Golden State Warriors.

The loss Wednesday was a clear step backward after a strong showing in Los Angeles, especially on the offensive end which featured the Bulls shoot 37 percent from the field,  including 24 percent from three-point range.

That fact that Portis is talking about “the future,’’ however, also shows that he’s confident he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

The Sun-Times reported last month that Mirotic and his camp issued an ultimatum to the Bulls that either Portis had to go or Mirotic would be willing to waive his no-trade clause for this season so he could go elsewhere.

There’s not a real market for either, so the Bulls have no plans to be forced into just giving away players. The hope remains that time will heal this wound and Mirotic can at least figure out a way to exist with Portis this season. Then this summer maybe something changes.

Until then, Portis is still trying to establish his place on the court.

“The biggest thing with us this year so far is everybody getting to play, and that’s getting me, Denzel [Valentine], Lauri [Markkanen], Kris [Dunn] more comfortable out there,’’ Portis said. “That’s helping us tremendously.’’

And Portis is looking to return the favor, getting the opportunity to help out late in games off the bench.

When the Lakers went small in the fourth quarter, it was Portis and Markkanen on the floor, holding the lead until the six-minute mark when both starting units came back in, Portis returned to the bench, and that lead disappeared.

There was no closing group that could have saved the performance in Utah, so that wasn’t even an option.

But Portis is still thinking that Los Angeles could be a glimpse of things to come for the third-year player.

“Most closing units in the NBA are pretty small,’’ Portis said. “A lot of teams are going with two forwards, and that’s something that me and Lauri can really work with, especially closing the game.

“I feel like that’s definitely something we can use in the future.’’

Portis can talk “future’’ freely these days because he’s fine letting everyone else dwell on the past.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com