Mirotic makes surprise start, but Portis shines in Bulls’ win

There were many people who thought Nikola Mirotic wouldn’t be in Chicago past the trade deadline. Few would have been surprised if he never started for the Bulls again.

On Saturday, Mirotic was the subject of another curve. Count him among those who didn’t see it coming.

“I was surprised that I’m back in the starting lineup,” Mirotic said. “It’s been a long time.”

But it was the man whose starting spot he took who stood out.

Bobby Portis reacts during Saturday's game. | Associated Press

Mirotic started in the Bulls’ 95-86 win over the Jazz. In his third start of the season and first since Dec. 3 at Dallas, Mirotic played 17:09 and scored five points. Bobby Portis, meanwhile, made the move to the bench look good by scoring a career-high 22 points for the Bulls, who won for just the second time in nine games and gained ground for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Jimmy Butler had 23 points, and Denzel Valentine scored 11 and grabbed 12 rebounds for his first double-double.

Hoiberg said he moved Mirotic back into the starting lineup so he could match up with the Jazz, as well as change the rhythm of the team and Portis. Portis had started the previous 12 games after the trade of Taj Gibson but was struggling -recently.

“I like starting, so I just kind of played with a chip on my shoulder,” Portis said. “At the same time, I tried to be myself for a change.”

Hoiberg said he and Portis talked Friday and Saturday about the coach’s desire to “change the flow” for Portis and the Bulls. This move, at least for a night, worked.

“I thought Bobby played the right way and good things came to him,” said Hoiberg, who confirmed the starting lineup would remain the same for the game Tuesday in Toronto.

As for Mirotic, he has been the subject of questions about his future and open speculation about why he hasn’t progressed. He said he has had his teammates’ support.

“Especially the last couple weeks, I felt a lot of support from my teammates: Dwyane Wade, Jimmy, Rajon [Rondo] — Rajon all year,” Mirotic said. “It was very important for me for those guys, they talked to me, especially before the game in Charlotte, and told me that they need me.

“Those kinds of things gave me a lot of energy, a lot of positive stuff to move forward and forget what happened before that, three or four games being out. I felt that was really important for [my] confidence.”

It’s understandable why Mirotic was caught off guard. He has gone from not playing to back in the starting lineup while the look of the team has evolved.

A restricted free agent this summer, Mirotic knows the final stretch of the season is going to be important to his future, but he was focused on finishing well. Another important part of this season is simply learning from what has happened.

“There was a lot of up and down, a lot of things I never did in my life. But I’m here. I’m still here,” Mirotic said.

Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow.