Nikola Mirotic on the mend as Bulls gear up for final stretch


Nikola Mirotic on the mend as Bulls gear up for final stretch

Nikola Mirotic knew something was wrong when, after an additional night in the hospital following his appendectomy last month, he returned home with a fever and considerable pain in his stomach.

So the next day the Bulls forward returned to Rush Medical Center, where doctors discovered a hematoma in his stomach that required a second surgery. Mirotic spent a week in the hospital recovering, saying at Wednesday's practice he had lost 18 pounds since then, and has just now begun rehabilitation with hopes of getting back to the court as soon as possible.

"It was not really (a) good experience. All I had after the first surgery, I went home I get back I had another one, but it's always try to stay positive. You never know the reason why it's good for this to happen, but it's true I missed a lot of my guys and I was watching all the games and it's been hard, especially the beginning of my recovery."

Mirotic has been working in the pool and been doing light activity on a stationary bike and in the weight room. There's still no timetable for his return, as Fred Hoiberg alluded to at practice Tuesday. But Mirotic, who played in 81 games as a rookie last season, said he's confident in his body and said he could resume basketball activity in two to three weeks. He admitted that both sides of his stomach and back are still sore, which doctors told him was normal. Mirotic's doctor also told him it was the first complication with an appendectomy he had seen in his 30 years.

"I don't know when the time, but of course the one thing I know, I'm going do the best job I can to try to get on the floor as soon and help my teammates. We will see," he said. "It's each day see how it's going to progress, but hopefully it's going to be soon."

[SPORTSTALK LIVE: Can the banged-up Bulls turn things around?]

Though Mirotic has struggled much of his sophomore season in Chicago, his absence has been noticeable. The Bulls, already down Joakim Noah (shoulder) and later Jimmy Butler (knee), begin their final 30 games of the regular season shorthanded, especially in the frontcourt. Since Mirotic's last game, Jan. 25 against Miami, the Bulls have gone 2-6 with a net rating of -8.6, second worst in the league behind Phoenix (-13.9). Their rebounding has taken a substantial hit, too, as their rebound percentage of 47.5 percent is fifth worst in the league in that span.

But not all the Bulls' injury news was bad. Mike Dunleavy will see an uptick in minutes following the Bulls' week-long All-Star break. Hoiberg said the veteran sharpshooter looked good and made it through the last two days of practice - which included game officials - and likely will get the start on LeBron James tomorrow night in Cleveland; Dunleavy started the Bulls' final two games before the break, in Charlotte and against Atlanta.

The hope is that Dunleavy's increased minutes will help give some stability to a Bulls lineup that has rotated players in and out as injuries have occurred. The Bulls won't get to ease in to the home stretch of their schedule, facing the top two seeds in the East on consecutive nights. The Bulls are looking to break out of a funk that's seen them lose 13 of 18 since they won six straight in early January

"We need to get confident. That's something that we've lacked, especially on the road trip when we couldn't close out games that we had great chances of winning," he said. "So it's giving ourselves an opportunity and closing them out and gaining that confidence that's so important if you want to go on a run in this league.

"The thing about our conference, about the East, if you do go on a run you can make a jump in the hurry. And that's what we've got to be focused on. Past is the past, gotta go out and prepare and hopefully give ourselves a chance to win every game."

We've officially found the biggest Michael Jordan fan ever

We've officially found the biggest Michael Jordan fan ever

There are diehard Michael Jordan fans.

And then there's this guy.

Forget anybody getting a tattoo of their favorite team's championship trophy. Forget the people who wait for hours in terrible weather just to catch a glimpse of their favorite player.

This dude has a constant, 24/7 reminder of "His Airness":

Yep, that is a full tattoo of a Jordan "23" jersey on his back, complete with a Michael Jordan "autograph" in the middle of the "2." 

Dedication at its finest.

Couple questions: 

A) Does it carry over to the front at all? And if not, is that a plan for the future?

2) Will one of his buddies get a "45" Jordan jersey tattoo or are we just gonna continue to pretend that era never happened?

D) What will that tat look like in a few years? That guy better stay away from the Doritos...

Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career


Wendell Carter Jr. survives gauntlet of centers to begin career

Don't tell Wendell Carter Jr. the center position is a dying breed.

The 19-year-old rookie hasn't exactly been able to ease into the NBA, finding himself up against a handful of All-Stars and powerful frontcourts just five days into his career.

It culminated Monday night with a date against Mavericks center DeAndre Jordan, and once again the seventh overall pick held his own. It was much of the same as it was against Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and Detroit's Andre Drummond last week (and Nikola Jokic in the preseason finale): some good, some bad, plenty of poise and zero backing down. The NBA is unforgiving, but this could very well be the toughest stretch Carter faces all season.

"He’s playing against top level centers now," Fred Hoiberg said before Monday's game. "It’s a great experience for him. He’s going to learn and get better and he plays within himself, we will continue to look for him to be more aggressive."

He was as aggressive as the Bulls have seen him against Jordan and the Mavericks. He blew by the 20 and 18 minutes he played in the first two games of the year, totalling 32 minutes. His final line won't tell the story - 4 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists and a block - of a Carter who defended well at the rim, picking and choosing his spots on when to attack shots and when to simply use his verticality.

He wasn't credited for a block but he contested a Jordan dunk that turned into a Bobby Portis dunk on the other end. Plus-minus isn't always a good indicator of a player's worth, but Carter was a +5 in a 14-point Bulls loss. He even attempted a corner 3-pointer early in the shot clock, showing no hesitation. Carter's had his moments, but it's also apparent he's got a 19-year-old body going up against veterans each night. That'll come with time in the weight room. For now the experience is 

"I appreciate the fact I’m able to play against these very talented bigs early in my career," Carter said after the loss to the Pistons. "What I need to work on is I have to get stronger; that’s the first thing I recognize; just being up against the best. I love the competition. It’s always a great feeling going against the best."

What the Bulls are finding out is they have a player mature beyond his years. As he progresses he'll continue to get more difficult assignments. He had his rookie moment late in Monday's loss, committing a turnover in the backcourt after the Bulls had cut the deficit to five with 35 seconds left. The fouls are also an issue, as Carter has committed 10 in three games (after committing 17 in five preseason games).

That doesn't necessarily seem important for a Lottery-bound team, but considering the continued struggles of Robin Lopez (and Cristiano Felicio is entirely out of the rotation) it is. Lopez had 2 points and 1 rebound in 10 minutes while committing five personal fouls. In three games he has 11 personal fouls and 11 points, and also has more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four). If the Bulls are going to compete until Lauri Markkanen returns, Carter will need to hover around the 32 minutes he played Monday.

He'll get a much easier test on Wednesday when the Charlotte Hornets arrive in town. Cody Zeller doesn't exactly have the credentials of a Jokic or Embiid, meaning Carter may have a little more room to work. 

The Bulls know they have something in Carter. It'll be abother month until they can deploy him alongside Markkanen, but if the first three games are any indication, Carter won't have any problems matching up with some of the league's best.