Nikola Mirotic had last laugh, but Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg had last word
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NEW ORLEANS — Pelicans forward Nikola Mirotic is seldom shy when he’s offering up his feelings — or making guarantees, for that matter.
Mirotic not only wanted to beat his former teammates, but he felt like he’d “put up 30’’ in doing so.
He’d have to settle for one of the two.
Facing the Bulls for the first time since they traded him Jan. 21 for a first-round pick that turned into Chandler Hutchison, Mirotic tried to do too much and scored only nine points, shooting 4-for-14 from the field, including 1-for-8 from three-point range. He did grab 15 rebounds.
Anthony Davis, however, dominated the Bulls (3-9) with a game-high 32 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks in the Pelicans’ 107-98 victory.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg stood out almost as much Davis. He was as animated as he has ever been during his four-year tenure.
First, he had a heated discussion with Jabari Parker during a timeout in the second quarter, then he picked up a technical in the second half after uttering the magic words to referee Kevin Cutler.
His confrontation with Parker drew the postgame questions, especially after Parker had jogged down the floor defensively on two possessions before Hoiberg had words with him.
“I didn’t think we had the physicality and the grit in that first quarter, and they ended up scoring 58 in the first half,’’ Hoiberg said. “It was a little bit of everything, but it wasn’t just Jabari. That particular moment was about an execution thing coming out of the timeout.’’
Mirotic said playing against the Bulls was another step in getting over how things ended with the team that brought him over from the Spanish league before the 2014-15 season.
Bobby Portis’ punch last training camp obviously threw salt in his wounded relationship with the organization, and by the time he was healthy and returned to the lineup, his mind was all but made up that he wanted to be elsewhere.
According to Mirotic, however, he has moved past that negativity.
“First, it’s my personality, and it was time for me to move on, to put all that focus, maybe a little anger, too, but in a good way, to be successful, to be your best,’’ Mirotic said of his attitude since leaving the Bulls. “The biggest thing was to be consistent. I always talked about that. It was my biggest struggle when I was with the Bulls, but I feel like I found a way to be consistent. I know it’s still early, but I love being here. The guys are great, they know how to use me, how to play me, which is really important.’’
Mirotic also took note of the comments from the Bulls on Tuesday, specifically by Robin Lopez and Hoiberg.
While many in the organization were finished with Mirotic by the time he was traded to the Pelicans, Lopez and Hoiberg always spoke well of him. That didn’t go unnoticed.
“Robin was one of my favorite teammates,’’ Mirotic said. “And that felt good, coming from a guy that I respected a lot as a teammate, and especially as a guy, as a friend.
“And also from Fred. I’m always going to try to stick with the good moments I had with Fred, and there were many more good moments than bad moments, which is normal.’’