Bulls

Bulls: Nikola Mirotic gets stitches out, 'hopefully on the road to recovery'

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Bulls: Nikola Mirotic gets stitches out, 'hopefully on the road to recovery'

Nikola Mirotic had his stitches removed Wednesday, a small step that Fred Hoiberg said puts him "hopefully on the road to recovery now."

Mirotic underwent an emergency appendectomy on Jan. 27 and was expected to be out until after the All-Star break. But complications during the procedure required Mirotic to undergo a hematoma removal, a setback from which the second-year forward still does not have a timetable for his return.

The removal of the stitches should allow Mirotic to stand more upright, and Hoiberg said the next step of the process will be getting him into a hot tub or pool where he can begin his rehabilitation. But Hoiberg also said Wednesday before the Bulls' matchup against the Atlanta Hawks that Mirotic is still "in a lot of pain" and has lost about 15 pounds since the surgery two weeks ago.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The injury came at a tough time for both Mirotic and the Bulls.

The 24-year-old had been mired in a season-long sophomore slump but was showing signs of breaking out, scoring 17 and 15 points in the two games before the surgery. It marked the first time since mid-December he had shot 50 percent or better from the field in back-to-back games. Mirotic's injury also came less than two weeks after Joakim Noah underwent shoulder surgery with a timetable for return at four to six months.

"It’s a tough blow for our team because I thought he was playing good basketball leading into that. The important thing is getting him right, now," Hoiberg said. "Hopefully we’ll get him back. I don’t know exactly a time frame on it, but in the stretch run where he’ll be very important to our team."

[MORE: All-Star nod bittersweet for Pau Gasol replacing Jimmy Butler]

With Noah and Mirotic sidelined - as well as All-Star Jimmy Butler - the Bulls are relying heavily on Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol, who is dealing with soreness in his left hand. Both Gibson and Gasol averaged nearly 34 minutes per game during the Bulls' seven-game road trip, both up from their season averages.

And though the Bulls' shallow and veteran frontcourt will get a break with the upcoming All-Star break - the Bulls will have eight days between games - rookie Bobby Portis could see his name called more frequently as the first big man off the bench. Portis' continued improvement - in five February games he's averaged 9.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23.3 minutes - will be crucial as the Bulls await for Mirotic's return, which could last longer than initially expected.

"I thought Bobby had some really good moments in the last game (in Charlotte). There was an incident where he and Pau were having a pretty good discussion on the bench about a missed assignment and then I thought he was much better as the game went on," Hoiberg said. "His shows are getting better, he had a really nice rotation the other day. Just different things that you don’t really see much in the college game that Bobby’s getting better at. And that’s a great sign. He’s still out there playing hard, playing his tail off."

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to season opening loss to Hornets

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to season opening loss to Hornets

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, Dave Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 126-125 loss to the Hornets on opening night.

0:45 - Welcome to season 2 of Outsiders

2:20 - On Bulls blowing a 10 point lead w just over 6 minutes left

5:10 - On Boylen’s rotations in the 4th quarter

7:50 - On Lauri Markkanen’s performance, lack of touches down the stretch

9:40 - Viewer comment on the loss

11:05 - Viewer comment on Coby and Dunn in 2nd unit

13:00 - Viewer comment on negative reaction to LaVine- Matt gets fired up

16:10 - On Coby White and his rookie debut

18:45 - Viewer comment on White not playing down the stretch

20:40 - Viewer comment on Markkanen and all-star chances

23:20 - Our bold predictions for the upcoming season

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls' late collapse in season-opening loss is ugly on many levels

Bulls' late collapse in season-opening loss is ugly on many levels

CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- Zach LaVine finally knocked down a 3-pointer, his only one of Wednesday night, pushing the Bulls ahead by 10 points with  6 minutes, 19 seconds left in the season opener.

The Bulls had rallied from a sluggish start, particularly at the defensive end, to take their second 10-point lead of the final quarter. Then, the wheels fell off.

The Hornets stormed back with a 15-1 run that featured all the elements that had defined the sluggish start---poor transition defense, lack of rotations to cover open 3-point shooters, more dribbling than passing offensively.

"We need to do a better job of executing down the stretch," coach Jim Boylen said. "When the ball sticks, we’re not as good a team. I thought the ball stuck a little bit at the end there. We gotta get good shots."

Consider this: The Bulls followed LaVine's 3-pointer with turnovers by LaVine and Coby White, who otherwise played well in his NBA debut with 17 points and seven asssists. Devonte Graham sank back-to-back 3-pointers around three point-blank misses by the Bulls, including Wendell Carter Jr.'s tip attempt of a missed driving layup by White. LaVine clanked two more 3-pointers. Otto Porter Jr. missed a 3-pointer. The Bulls inexplicably committed a shot-clock violation.

"We have to put the ball in our playmakers' hands," LaVine said. "I have to do a better job of commanding the ball, getting in pick-and-roll. Lauri had it going, put Lauri in the pick-and-roll. Spread them out. We’re playing up and down. I think we got a little bit too happy because that was our first time really getting into the game and playing like that. That’s how we want to play. At that time of the game, we can’t do that. We have to settle down. It really hurt us. We let them back into the game."

The Bulls slowed the bleeding by getting Markkanen to the line. He attempted six of his 10 free throws in the final 2 minutes, making five. But Dwayne Bacon sank the Hornets' franchise-record 23rd 3-pointer with 71 seconds remaining, which pushed their lead to four.

And then came the most curious decision of all. After Graham sank two free throws with 11.3 seconds left for a three-point lead, LaVine, with the Bulls out of timeouts, drove for a layup with 4.5 seconds left.

"I knew we were down by three. I was looking for the 3-pointer. That’s what I always look for," LaVine said. "Marvin Williams stepped out and they switched, so I knew there wasn’t that much time left so I had to get something. I knew they weren’t going to foul me at the rim, and if they did it could have been an 'and-1' opportunity. Just trying to get something and then play the foul game."

Instead, the Hornets inbounded the ball to the backcourt and killed the clock. Ballgame.

Boylen confirmed he had called two plays during the previous timeout, giving LaVine the freedom to make the decision on whether to shoot a 3-pointer or attack the rim.

"I mean we had something called, but at that time you’ve got to create," LaVine said. "I tried to go out there and make a play, got what I could. Give us a chance at the end, like I said, to play the foul game, get a steal, something like that. Just something where we’ll give ourselves a chance.’’

 Instead, the Bulls came up short.