Nikola Mirotic had been getting in some extra work with Fred Hoiberg, but for those who don’t have access to the Advocate Center, he might as well have been on a milk carton with a sign that said “missing in action”.
Going scoreless in one game where production was sorely needed along with combining for 24 points in the other five games before Saturday, it began to appear a sophomore slump was not an outlier.
Then Saturday happened, and the alarm clock went off just in time for Mirotic, who went off for 17 in the Bulls’ 96-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Saturday night.
“Finally, you know? It’s been huge for me,” Mirotic said in the visitor’s locker room Saturday night. “I’ve said before, I’m working on my shots but even with my shots they haven’t been going in. My teammates were finding me. But it’s just one game. Miami is next. I need to play well.”
The frustrating pump fakes, the bricked jumpers kept adding up as Mirotic looked bottled up and the only constant observation that could be said centered around his indecision. Even his breakout game against the Cavaliers can’t be praised too much because nobody knows what’s to come behind it.
And with the Bulls going out west for a grueling trip after their last home game against Miami, no one can predict what’s coming next, not even his coach. Almost a microcosm of this team to date.
“This year against good teams we play great. But we need to change our mentality, we need to play great against everybody,” Mirotic said. “Today we started at the beginning, great physicality, played for each other. The second unit, we played good.”
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For some reason, comfort has been hard to find for Mirotic, and Hoiberg has tried virtually everything to get him going. He’s started at power forward, come off the bench, started at small forward and now, he’s back as a reserve expected to anchor a second unit.
“I don’t know if I’m feeling pressure but I know I can play better and when you’re not doing your job as you’re expected…I need to play better,” Mirotic said. “Today was a different game and I need to keep building. They trust me.”
As Bobby Portis’ production has tailed off and Doug McDermott has disappeared whenever he’s not on the floor with Joakim Noah, Mirotic is the best and last hope of the recent draft picks to make a difference.
Shocking as it is, he’s the most productive and even through this period of play where you hardly noticed he was on the floor, January is Mirotic’s best month of the season — an illustration of the state of affairs under both circumstances.
“When you care as much as Niko does I think you’re gonna put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Hoiberg said. “Our first game against Cleveland Niko led us in scoring with 19 points. Then last game he was terrific.”
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His confidence has been as unpredictable as his play but unlike last season, he’s a necessity and not a luxury, which brings about a different kind of feeling as he hopes the inconsistency is behind him — but who can be sure at this point?
“Right now it’s up and down and I’m trying everyday to do something good,” he said.