CHICAGO – Within two players is a microcosm of the rebuilding of the Windy City’s NBA Franchise.
The beginning is always a little rough, but as time goes on progress is made little by little as time goes along. This is how it will work for the Bulls who are at the start of what figures to be a long and arduous piecing together of a team that might be able to win a few years down the road.
At the same time, on a smaller scale, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are trying to repair a teammate relationship over the first two months of the season. That was broken, literally and figuratively, when Portis punched Mirotic in the face during an October 17th practice. The latter was knocked out for a month-and-a-half while the former was suspended eight games, with the healing of the two’s on and off court relationship in need of healing a lot longer than that.
But like the franchise itself, the pair are taking small steps toward restoring their chemistry on the court as the games go along. Granted it’s just been a few weeks of practices and three games, but Monday was an important step for both.
Mirotic started for the first time in his third game back with the team and delivered a strong 24 point performance in which he shot 9-of-14 from the field. Portis was nearly as good, hitting 10-of-15 from the floor for a career-high 23 points. Together, the combined to take advantage of a Celtics team on the end of a back-to-back without Kyrie Irving in a 108-85 victory that’s the easily the biggest of the first two month’s of this new rebuilding era for the team.
That wasn’t the story after the game. Instead it was the seemingly good working relationship between these two “foes” whose fight set each back to start this season. It was an easy talking point after the game for media and fans, but Portis is trying his best to distance himself for the narrative.
“That situation is over, we’re just trying to play basketball, everybody on the team wants to win basketball games,” said Portis when asked about having a great game along with Mirotic. “Everybody keeps talking about that, but that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to go out there and compete and do what we do best.
“Both of us love to play basketball, obviously on the court you can tell that we honestly love trying to win.”
Mirotic had similar thoughts when asked a few times about his success with Portis and how awkward that might be considering their recent rough history.
“I’m doing my job, he’s doing his job,” said Mirotic. “Right now when we are both on the court it seems that the team is playing well. But we need to give that credit to Fred because Fred is the one who is making us play. He is the guy that is calling the plays for us and he has us in the right spots to play.”
When a pair combines for 49 points, a number of them coming when both shared the floor, it certainly shifts some of the credit for a victory to his “Odd Couple.” It’s a surprise that was even bigger than the lopsided win over the Celtics, though Robin Lopez had some faith that Mirotic’s arrival could help the team even if it meant teaming up with Portis.
“Not too much,” said Lopez on Wednesday when asked if he was surprised that the pair has played well together. “The had a lot of success last year, they had a lot of success in the playoffs against Boston. So to see them working so well together and having success, it’s not a surprise to me.”