As Mirotic awaits trade fate, Bulls beat the Heat to win their third-straight game

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CHICAGO – Indeed, No. 44 took the court for the Bulls on Monday. There was an outside chance that he wouldn’t.

Before the Bulls’ matinée with the Heat, Mirotic became one of 16 players in the league to be eligible for a trade. Since he’s played so well since his return to the team in December, there was a shot that the forward could go the minute he was available.

That didn’t happen. Mirotic was in full uniform at the United Center, focused for the time being on the Bulls’ somewhat surprising winning ways.

“I didn’t talk to them,” said Mirotic when asked if he had any contact with Bulls’ front office once he became eligible. “Probably my agents are talking. I don’t know so far what is going on. I know my name is going to be there. But I’m doing my job, I’m sure they’re doing their job, and we’re both going to do what is best for the team.”

Right now that would appear for Nikola to remain in Chicago, since the Bulls came into Monday 13-7 since he returned to the lineup in early December when the squad was floundering with a 3-20 record. But Bobby Portis’ punch to his face during practice that kept him out of the lineup the first 23 games sealed his desired ticket out-of-town long before he led the Bulls to some success.

But for the moment Mirotic is still in Chicago, and on Monday he made his contributions to yet another Bulls victory. It wasn’t a perfect performance off the bench by any means – registering a -17 rating – but his 18 points contributed to a 119-111 victory that extended the Bulls’ winning streak to three games.

In truth, the biggest contributions in this triumph came from those in the starting lineup. It begins with Zach LaVine, who upped his production to 18 points in his second 20-minute stint in the Bulls’ lineup. His four-point play at the end of the first half gave the Bulls a seven-point lead going into the break, then Justin Holiday pushed it up to 19 later in the third when he knocked down a three-pointer to add to his game-high 25 points.

“I give the credit to my teammates, they found me when I was open,” said Holiday of his strong effort. “I was hot and they continued to give me the ball, so obviously that goes to them as well.”

Lauri Markkanen would be the man to come through late when the Heat got the lead down to five in the final two minutes. His three-pointer with 1:08 to play pushed the lead back out to eight, and then Markkanen ended any hopes of a comeback with a late hoop-and-foul to add to his 17 on the night.

It makes it seven-games over .500 with Mirotic in the lineup, showing the glimpse of hope that exists with this team with everyone on the floor.

“You get healthy with Niko and David (Nwaba), and now Zach into the picture, to have a full complement of players and a full roster,” said head coach Fred Hoiberg. “A big part of this is having the right mentality and sacrificing for your teammate which our guys have really bought into and accepted the role that’s been given to them.”

For now, of course. Mirotic’s time with the team is ticking with the official clock started on Monday.