Bulls: Nikola Mirotic optimistic about health, not so much about Zaza Pachulia


Bulls: Nikola Mirotic optimistic about health, not so much about Zaza Pachulia

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.

[MORE BULLS: Mirotic ruled out for Game 3, could miss Game 4 with injury]

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.”

[SHOP: Get a Nikola Mirotic jersey here]

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.”

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

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