Bulls

Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

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Mirotic responds to chiding from teammates in Bulls rout

BROOKLYN -- Being a brainless player can be a compliment or put-down depending on its context, considering it keeps some players glued to the bench when coaches can’t trust their instincts.

For Nikola Mirotic, he’s being urged to turn the brain off and just play, receiving some extra prodding from the man who’ll likely benefit from his mere presence on the floor, Derrick Rose.

“I hate when he hesitates. Hate when he hesitates,” Rose repeated for emphasis after the Bulls’ blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, where they clinched homecourt advantage for the first-round series that starts this weekend.

Mirotic found himself open on a few occasions and didn’t feel comfortable letting loose early. Perhaps the thought of being unselfish was in his head but when the decision was made to flip the switch to “off”, that’s when
Mirotic got off and earned the admiration of a 50-50 crowd at Barclays Center Monday night.

“In the first half, they (teammates) were telling me, ‘Niko, don’t think, just shoot the ball. You’re wide open. Don’t pump fake’,” Mirotic said.

[MORE: Sharing is caring as the Bulls dismantle Nets in Brooklyn]

He was. The Nets defense couldn’t keep up with the Bulls’ ball movement and while trying to keep a handle on the Bulls’ guard penetration, left a gaping hole on the perimeter in the form of Mirotic.

“Gotta shoot. Gotta shoot,” Rose said. “That’s the way the offense is, If you’re open three times, if the game is telling you to shoot, we’re not gonna get mad. Shoot the ball.”

The game dictated that shots were given to Mirotic and finally, he accepted the challenge in the third quarter, hitting three straight to finish the period—only missing a corner triple at the buzzer.

“They’re right. I just need to shoot because when I think, I miss the shot,” Mirotic said. “So when I don’t think, I make the shot. I made the first one, the second one and there you go, keep shooting.”

Mirotic led the Bulls with 26 on the evening, hitting six of his eight field goals from long range. Considering he came from overseas with such a well-earned reputation as a shooter, hitting 31 percent from three seems a little puzzling on its face.

But he had the ability to create more overseas, and now he’s just getting used to recognizing when he’s open on the catch, and just letting it fly. Chances are, he’s heard you yelling at your screen when he hesitates in such matters.

“The shots were more handoffs, and like catch and shoot,” Mirotic said. “The movement sometimes being gone, so they’re not easy shots. But when you start making shots I’m making, they start learning me, start to play better defense on me. It’s not easy.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Buy a Nikola Mirotic jersey here]

After having the freedom to create when Rose was out with injury, he’ll have fewer of those opportunities en masse—but with Rose on the floor, they open things up for each other. Rose found driving lanes that hadn’t been available in the past two games, which he’s attributed to playing more with Mirotic.

“I want to play with him a little bit more,” Rose said. “But the people I’ve been playng with, Taj (Gibson) Pau (Gasol), (Joakim Noah), I think we’ve done a great job. With Niko on the floor it’s another dimension, the way he spaces the floor. “

And now as the league has started to zero in on what Mirotic likes to do, he’ll have to ramp up the intensity for the upcoming postseason—while turning down the volume in his head.

“It’s normal, a really big adjustment. A lot of ups and downs,” said Mirotic of his fluctuating confidence. “I’m working hard the last part of the season. I’m working hard to prepare myself for the playoffs. Sometimes I play more, sometimes I play less. The chance is here so you have to play your part.”

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

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NBC SPORTS

Kendall Gill named to Illini Athletics Hall of Fame

Kendall Gill can add another bullet point to his resume.

NBC Sports Chicago's Bulls analyst was announced as a member of the University of Illinois' Athletics Hall of Fame for the Class of 2018. Gill enters in the same class as his coach at Illinois, Lou Henson, and former Bulls broadcaster Johnny "Red" Kerr.

Gill was a part of Illinois' 1989 Final Four team and earned consensus Second-Team All-America honors the following year as a senior when he led the Big Ten in scoring (20 points per game). He is third in program history in steals with 218.

He went on to have a 15-year NBA career, which included a stint with the Bulls.

Last year was the inaugural class for Illinois' hall of fame.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling.