Nikola Mirotic’s status for Games 3 and 4 for the Bulls’ first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks certainly appears to be in doubt, but his feelings toward Bucks big man Zaza Pachulia aren’t as ambiguous.
Mirotic issued a passive-aggressive shot toward the man who landed an elbow on top of his head in the second half and another shot while both men were diving for a loose ball in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not upset. I understand this is the playoffs and people play more physical,” said Mirotic in the Bulls' morning shootaround at the BMO Bradley Center before Game 3 of their playoff series. “But you need to be careful too. It’s good when you play physical but not dirty.”
Pachulia has a reputation as a player who toes the line of physical and dirty, and a few Bulls have privately spoken of Pachulia’s tactics, although Pachulia’s elbow to Mirotic’s head appeared to be more incidental than malicious.
When asked directly if Pachulia plays dirty, the rookie tried to be more diplomatic.
“Could be. I don’t know,” Mirotic said. “I don’t like to talk bad about other players. But players need to be careful. Of course I understand you should play physical because it’s the playoffs. But you need to be careful and maybe that play was really dirty and maybe he tried to push me. He knows better than me.”
But as for his ailing left knee that will keep him out for at least Game 3, the heavy limp from Tuesday’s practice is gone, and he seems impressed at the progress modern medicine can provide.
“It’s really sore right now,” Mirotic said. “After the first day, it’s getting better. Right now, I can walk normal. Yesterday, I took some shots. I didn’t jump. But all the treatment, it’s amazing that it’s getting better. Right now, I’m trying to be positive and my mind fresh and try to be ready.”
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Mirotic hadn’t played a big part in the team’s offense through the first two games, one that has struggled if you discount Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, so his small frustration is understandable.
“It’s hard. This is the first playoffs for me,” Mirotic said. “I’ve worked really hard to prepare myself and help my team. Right now, I can’t play. But I will work hard to again soon help my teammates. Probably going to be just one game, two games, I don’t know. But the most important thing is I will be back. And they will play good without me for sure.”
He hopes to be back on the floor Saturday afternoon for Game 4, but if the Bulls take care of business to gain a commanding 3-0 lead, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him sit for more rest before the second round.
“I’m doing my treatments,” Mirotic said. “My quad is still really sore right now so I’m just working to get better and be a faster heal. I don’t know when the time is but I’m doing my best. Hopefully, I’ll be soon on the court.”