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Nikola Mirotic defends coach Fred Hoiberg and the job he’s done

Nikola Mirotic had every opportunity to play the role of malcontent after the Bulls’ road loss Saturday to the Nets.

He has been in the starting lineup, out of the starting lineup, in the rotation, out of the rotation, in trade rumors and even on the inactive list before a game in Boston last month.

A free agent this offseason, Mirotic had just about every excuse to burn bridges. Instead, he found himself trying to explain the Bulls’ Jekyll and Hyde performances and defending coach Fred Hoiberg.

After the Bulls fell short of the playoffs last season, critics took shots at Hoiberg. So a meltdown this last week would only turn up the heat on Hoiberg.

But Mirotic insisted that Hoiberg has control of the locker room and that his game plans are being executed — even by Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade.

“All the guys here are listening to Fred,’’ Mirotic said. “Sometimes when you’re out there playing, what you think is good for the team isn’t. Sometimes guys do things, and it’s not what Fred is telling them to do. But we’re all following Fred’s instructions, and sometimes it’s been good, sometimes not that well, but we’re all trying to be on the same page.’’

When asked if Wade and Butler were blocking Hoiberg out at certain times, Mirotic said, “No, I don’t think so. I’ve never seen that, to be honest with you. This is an emotional game, and that’s why sometimes guys do something different, but it’s not like anyone is against Fred. We’re all with Fred. We’re a family now, fighting for something very important.’’

That fight took a serious blow with the Bulls’ 107-106 loss in Brooklyn. It put the team back in a very familiar dark corner of the playoff race.

With the Heat and Pacers winning Saturday, Indiana grabbed the No. 7 spot in the East, knocking the Bulls down a notch, and the Heat are tied with the Bulls at No. 8, but the Bulls own the tiebreaker.

Mirotic said the losses to the Knicks and Nets were embarrassing. Recent victories against the playoff-bound Bucks, Cavaliers and Hawks were blunted by those two disappointing losses.

It’s a fickle trend that has been going on for two seasons. Mirotic would like to see it come to an end.

“I wish we had the answer,’’ Mirotic said. “I don’t know why this team does this. We need consistency. Once we start playing well, start beating some of the good teams, it seems like we can beat the next team easy. Brooklyn or Minnesota, it doesn’t matter. And it’s not like that. There are no easy games.

“Our last two losses are all because of us. We played kind of soft in the beginning, and we thought we were going to just win those games. Like, ‘We have time, we have time,’ but you don’t have time. You think you can just flip it on and get a game, but by then, the game is basically done.

“But we still have two games to do this. That’s what matters. We’re still in the fight.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

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