The Bulls are as close to full strength as they’ve been in three months with Jimmy Butler returning to the lineup, and as a late surprise, Nikola Mirotic will be available for Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets.
Mirotic missed the last 16 games with appendicitis and a hematoma removal, but after being announced as “close” and not ruled out by Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, his availability was let out 90 minutes before gametime.
Mirotic will be on a minute restriction as he works on getting his strength back, having lost around 18 pounds and trying to gain it back after complications from the surgeries.
“You know what, Niko is gonna give it a go,” Hoiberg said. “He’ll dress, he’ll be available, he’ll be on a limit. But he made it full contact practice yesterday and the medical staff is comfortable with him being in uniform.”
Mirotic going through contact practices and even taking charges during the 5-on-5 scrimmages has given the medical staff and coaching staff confidence he can play, adding much-needed depth to a team that’s been depleted of that and spirit through this recent 8-18 stretch.
The Bulls have plummeted to ninth in the Eastern Conference with 22 games left.
“It’s, again, we’ll have to keep close eye based on his conditioning,” Hoiberg said. “But as far as how his stomach is feeling, the incision on where he had the second surgery, he feels good enough to go out and give it a try and the doctors are comfortable with it.”
Mirotic last played Jan. 25 and although he’s struggled most of this season, he was beginning to show some signs, scoring 15 and 17 in his last two outings before having to undergo the first of two procedures.
With Mirotic and Butler back, along with the continued presence of Mike Dunleavy, the Bulls are able to see a little light at end of the tunnel—because they’re fighting for their postseason lives in the last six weeks.
Butler’s return has seemingly sent a jolt into the team—either that or its desperation, as his left knee strain kept him out since the beginning of February.
“It feels good,” Hoiberg said. “Just gotta get those guys integrated in how we’re trying to play. Practice was as good as we’ve had in a month or so. He’s shot energy right into our group and that’s how we’ll play. He’ll bring guys along. He can defend the elite guys in our league.”