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Nikola Mirotic gets nod — and backing — to make Bulls debut tonight

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As expected, Nikola Mirotic made it through the Friday morning shootaround without a setback, clearing him to make his regular-season debut for the Bulls tonight against the Charlotte Hornets.

“We talked about starting out with him being careful about his minutes,”coach Fred Hoiberg said. “There’s no hard number per se. We just have to be smart about this as he works his way back into playing shape, especially the back-to-back here in his first stint.

PREVIEW: Bulls at Hornets tonight.

“So he’ll go out and probably play 15-20 minutes tonight. It could be different depending on the flow of the game, but he’s excited to be back and we’re excited to have him out there.’’

Mirotic, 26, told the Sun-Times on Thursday that his teammates who resented the way he handled his offseason – training at the Advocate Center by himself rather than with the team – needed to move on.

Hoiberg was asked about Mirotic’s approach to the summer and defended the forward’s decision to add muscle and work on his body.

“Yeah, Niko had a good summer,’’ Hoiberg said. “He decided that it was important for him to stay back and work on his body, and he’s never really had a summer to do that, playing on his national team the way he has. So the dedication he had to work on his body was a key for him and he added a lot of muscle, and again, he came in and played very well in the preseason. I thought Niko had a very good summer.’’

The Sun-Times reported last month that entering training camp, many younger players felt Mirotic had a sense of entitlement over the summer. Those feelings could have helped spark the Oct. 17 practice altercation between Mirotic and Bobby Portis, who threw a punch that put Mirotic in the hospital and resulted in an eight-game suspension for Portis.

“Again, the biggest thing right now that we talked about in the locker room before shootaround is we welcomed him all back, excited to have him back, and everybody is in agreement with that,’’ Hoiberg said. “That’s the big thing, that his teammates are excited to get him back.’’