Posts Tagged ‘Nikola Mirotic’

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

***

No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

***

No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

***

No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry

Morning shootaround — Feb. 4


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Feb. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cufrry blisters Wizards for 51 | Nowitzki disagrees with Abdul-Jabbar’s assessment | Report: Rockets unlikely to deal Howard | Report: Dunleavy to return Saturday | Caldwell-Pope injured vs. Celtics

No. 1: Curry breaks out of his ‘slump’, torches Wizards — Entering last night’s road game against the Washington Wizards, reigning MVP Stephen Curry had 21 games of 30 points or more, but hadn’t broken the 30-point barrier in three games. Is that considered a slump when you’re averaging close to 30 points per game in a season? Who knows. What is certain is Curry showed he hasn’t lost his touch, abusing the Wizards for 51 points and 11 3-pointers (one off tying the NBA single-game record) writes, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Stephen Curry just kind of left this hanging out there: “Maybe next time.”

That’s what he said after he made eight three-pointers in three quarters against the Lakers on Jan. 14, falling four shy of Kobe Bryant’s and Donyell Marshall’s single-game record.

His comment seemed innocuous until “next time” arrived.

On Wednesday at the Verizon Center, the arc opened up enough for Curry to hoist 16 three-point attempts, and because he often made the rim look the size of a hula hoop, he strutted away with 11 three-pointers in a 134-121 victory over the Wizards in front of a national TV audience.

“I missed one too many,” Curry joked. “At the end of the game, I knew I was within reach, and I was kind of searching, without trying to force it. You can’t mess around with the basketball gods, trying to chase records, if the game doesn’t call for it.”

If averaging 16.7 points on 37.9 percent three-point shooting in his previous three games constituted a slump for the MVP, his 51-point game — giving him four 50-point performances in his career — certainly constitutes a slump breaker.

“I didn’t know Steph was in a slump,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph is never in a slump. He was just scintillating tonight.”

“I said, ‘Here he goes,’” interim head coach Don Newman said of Curry’s fast start. “I knew it, because that’s what they usually do. I mean, they come out and they just want to kill you.”

Curry thrilled the crowd, then his bench, and finally himself with a flurry of three-pointers in the first quarter. The fans got louder and louder as he made his first four three-point shots. Andre Iguodala bowed to him from the scorer’s table when he knocked down No. 5, and Curry didn’t really know how to react act following his sixth.

Curry swiped a dribble from Wall in the backcourt and corralled the ball about 25 feet from the rim on the right wing. Why not launch it? He tracked the arc of the ball like a baseball player enjoying a towering home run from the batter’s box, and then started spinning into a happy dance.

He finished the first quarter with 25 points — his seventh 20-point quarter of the season. He made 7 of 8 three-point attempts and was well on his way to his single-season record of 10 games with at least eight three-pointers. George McCloud previously held the record with six such games.

“The shots that you know feel good, they go in, and the shots that you think, ‘Oh, that’s off,’ they go in,” Curry said. “It’s a fun feeling, and you want to ride it until you can’t anymore.”

“We watch it on TV every day, and you’re like, ‘Ah, it’s not like that,’” Washington forward Otto Porter said. “But when he does it against you, it’s eye-opening for you.”

***

(more…)

Appendectomy latest dip in Mirotic’s up-and-down season for Bulls


Maddeningly inconsistent and longer on potential than production, Nikola Mirotic had been something of a poster boy for the Chicago Bulls this season.

That dubious status only deepened Wednesday when the second-year forward was diagnosed with acute appendicitis and underwent an appendectomy at Rush University Medical Center. Now one of just three Bulls players to have appeared in every game will be out at least through the All-Star break, by team estimate, missing three weeks and at least eight games.

Mirotic joins Joakim Noah as a big man sidelined from Chicago’s rotation. Noah had season-ending surgery Jan. 19 on his dislocated left shoulder and, as an unrestricted free agent this summer whose game didn’t mesh well with new coach Fred Hoiberg‘s system, might have played his final game in a Bulls uniform.

Mirotic’s layoff won’t be nearly that extended and, beyond his contract that runs through 2016-17, he is highly valued by Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson. As with Hoiberg himself, they remain convinced of the 6-foot-10 Mirotic’s value as a “stretch four” in the newly installed space-and-pace system.

Still, his absence up to or through the Feb. 18 league trading deadline takes the Bulls out of any market their once-crowded frontcourt might have provided. And it isn’t likely to serve as a positive for Mirotic in what had been a rocky season NBA season.

“I have to find a way that I can play maybe 10 games good [in a row],” Mirotic told NBA.com earlier this week. “I try to do something every day good.

“Sometimes I have really good feelings before the game. What I should do when I warm up. But after the game [starts], it’s different. I know the first minutes of the game are really important for me. But sometimes when I’m missing those shots, I’m changing my game.That can’t happen. I have to stay focused, you know.”

Mirotic, 24, performed well in his two most recent appearances. He scored 17 points Saturday in the Bulls’ victory at Cleveland, then followed up with 15 points and eight rebounds in the loss to Miami Monday at United Center.

It wasn’t quite the impact the native of Montenegro had last March, when he averaged 20.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.3 free throw attempts, serving as a go-to guy in the fourth quarter for then-coach Tom Thibodeau and basically earning his second-place finish in NBA Rookie of the Year balloting.

But being back on the bench after 31 starts, and being back at power forward after an unsatisfying-all-around run of 13 games at small forward, appeared to suit Mirotic. And give him something to build from, until his unexpected surgery Wednesday.

Now, while his teammates hit the road for a seven-game trip that runs through Feb. 8, Mirotic will be recuperating at home near Chicago’s lakefront with wife Nina and 7-month-old son Alexsej. His return date isn’t known yet, but the Bulls have 30 games after the break in which Mirotic will be trying to find and maintain success, stirring some March echoes.

“If I did this in my rookie season, of course I can do it again,” Mirotic told NBA.com. “But I don’t want to make any more pressure on my head. I need a little more to enjoy the game. Sometimes I’m a little hard on myself, but that’s just normal. You know you can do things better.”

One Team, One Stat: The Thibs Effect


VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Chicago Bulls

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Chicago Bulls, who continued to do one thing really well defensively.

The stat

20151025_chi_rest_def

The context

20151025_chi_basicsFor the second time in Tom Thibodeau‘s five seasons as head coach, the Bulls were the best in the NBA at defending the easiest shots on the floor. League-wide, restricted-area shots yielded 1.20 points per attempt last season. Against the Bulls though, that number was just 1.12 points per shot.

Among 98 players who defended at least 250 shots at the rim last season, Taj Gibson (45.5 percent, ninth) and Pau Gasol (48.0 percent, 22nd) both ranked in the top 25 in opponent field goal percentage there.

The Bulls didn’t just defend shots at the rim well, they were also above average in regard to preventing them. And they were the best in the league at forcing mid-range shots (31 percent of their opponents’ shots came from between the paint and the 3-point line), the least efficient looks on the floor. That comes, in part, from being the best at keeping side pick-and-rolls from getting to the middle.

In all five of Thibodeau’s seasons in Chicago, his team ranked in the top five in effective field goal percentage defense. And keeping your opponents to a low effective field goal percentage is the most important thing you can do defensively.

But the Bulls fell out of the top five in overall defensive efficiency last season for the first time in Thibodeau’s tenure, because they ranked 29th in forcing turnovers and didn’t rebound as well as they had in the past.

20151025_chi_tt_defense

New coach Fred Hoiberg has put in a new offense and could go with a starting frontline of Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol for additional floor spacing. But while there’s potential for an improved offense, there’s also potential for more regression on defense. Mirotic ranked as one of 10 worst rim protectors among those 98 who defended at least 250 shots at the basket last season.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 21

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension | Wall, Wizards get jump start on training camp | Video analyst provided boost for Spain at EuroBasket

No. 1: Report: Warriors offer Barnes $64 million extension — The Golden State Warriors don’t want Harrison Barnes in the free agent pool next summer. They’ve offered Barnes a $64 million extension, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, to make sure another member of the core group of their championship roster remains in the fold. More from Yahoo!:

The $16 million annual offer wasn’t accepted, but appears to be a starting point in talks that could last until the Oct. 31 deadline for rookie extensions.

The Warriors are trying to prevent Barnes from reaching restricted free agency in July 2016, when a rising salary cap and scores of teams with financial flexibility will couple with Barnes’ burgeoning talent and potential to make him a significant target on the market.

As a member of the 2012 NBA draft class, Barnes is eligible for his rookie contract extension. Without an agreement by Oct. 31, Barnes would become a restricted free agent next summer. Golden State would be able to match any offer sheet for Barnes and re-sign him.

The offer of $16 million per year annually – comparable to teammate Draymond Green‘s five-year, $82.5 million extension this summer – had been negotiated by Barnes’ former agent, Jeff Wechsler. After that initial offer, Wechsler countered with a figure north of $16 million annually before he and Barnes parted ways, league sources said. Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports is representing Barnes now.

***

(more…)

No Gasol means smaller lineups for Cavaliers-Bulls in Game 4


VIDEO: What should we expect in Game 4 of Cavs-Bulls?

CHICAGO – Pau Gasol, the Chicago Bulls’ All-Star big man who suffered a strained left hamstring in Game 3 Friday night, won’t play Sunday against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Gasol still was sore and didn’t even try to warm up for the matinee game. He said, more than two hours before tipoff, he was “undecided” whether Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic or some other Bulls reserve would start in Gasol’s spot.

“We’ll see how it unfolds. We’ll see what the game tells us that we need,” Thibodeau said. “That’s the flexibility, whether we start Taj or Niko, the other guys, they’re all going to play a significant role.”

Cleveland coach David Blatt said that, since his team often uses smaller lineups (with LeBron James as the power forward and Tristan Thompson or pre-surgery Kevin Love as the center), the Cavaliers should be able to do well against a Bulls group missing the 7-foot Gasol. The Bulls had great production after Gasol got hurt Friday using Gibson and Mirotic together on their front line.

“They’ve played Mirotic at [power forward this season], more with Gasol or with [Joakim] Noah than perhaps with Taj,” Blatt said. “It should not be a difference-maker. In that case, I don’t think it’s a matter of who’s playing but how you’re playing.

“We’ve got to do a great job of continuing being active on defense and being focused on rebounding the ball. Mirotic is going to stretch the floor more, which means you’re flying around a good bit on the perimeter. Then you’ve got to really lock in on the rebounding aspect, because you’re not in normal positions. But that’s a lineup we should and can play well against.”

Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving has been dealing with a sprained right foot, an injury suffered early in the first round against Boston. After he rolled his right ankle in Game 3, the foot seemed to bother Irving more than in this series’ first two outings.

Thibodeau, who helped coach Irving for Team USA last summer, didn’t want to count on a key opposing player being less than 100 percent.

“At this time of the year, you know guys are getting nicked up,” Thibodeau said. “But as I said, I was around Kyrie in the summer. I saw him get bumped. The guy’s tough, he plays through thing. So I never underestimate that. If you let your guard down against a player like that, it doesn’t take much for him to get going.”

Hamstring treatment will determine Gasol’s availability for Game 4

CHICAGO – The Bulls’ status as the healthier team in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with Cleveland got dinged a little Friday night when big man Pau Gasol left in the third quarter with a left hamstring strain.

Gasol said he first felt the injury in the first quarter, and he wasn’t sure how his leg might feel for Game 4 Sunday afternoon. His plan for Saturday? Treatment and more treatment. The Chicago Tribune carried a brief injury update after Gasol finished with six points, four rebounds and four assists in 22 minutes.

“I have to do some tests, see how bad or good it is and then proceed from there,” Gasol said. “I’m just hoping that it’s not a bad tear or anything like that. Hamstrings are tricky and dangerous. Just hoping for the best and trying to stay positive.

“Hopefully I’ll get up [Saturday] with not much soreness and I’ll go to the hospital and do whatever it is I have to do to find out what I have.”

“Early in the first quarter, it started to tighten up,” Gasol said. “It really bothered me. I thought it was going to loosen up and I was going to be able to push through it. The more I pushed through it, the worse it got.”

If Gasol is limited or unable to play, the Bulls will lean heavily on reserves Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic up front. Gibson had nine points and nine rebounds in about 23 minutes of Game 3 and Mirotic got his longest stint yet in the series, scoring 12 points with eight boards in 22 minutes.

Bulls’ Mirotic likely out for Game 3


CHICAGO – Still hobbled by a left knee and quadriceps injury suffered Monday against Milwaukee, Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic has been ruled out of Game 3 when his team faces the Bucks again Thursday in their Eastern Conference their first-round series.

Mirotic did some light shooting and was limping better after the Bulls’ practice Wednesday – an encouraging sign in general but not enough to count him in for the next game. The Bulls sounded ready to proceed without the 6-foot-10 reserve from Montenegro, who picked up votes for both the NBA’s top rookie and Sixth Man awards.

“He adds a lot of versatility to our frontcourt,” Pau Gasol said. “The floor is gonna be more open when he’s out there because of his shooting ability. I’m sure we’re gonna miss some of his stuff. But at the same time, Taj [Gibson] is going to get a little more minutes. He needs to get going. We’re going to work with what we have, like we have been doing all season long.”

Mirotic, 24, averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in Games 1 and 2, a dip from his regular-season numbers and definitely from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. He suffered a strained quadriceps and a knee bruise during a tussle with Milwaukee center Zaza Pachulia late in a more physical Game 2, with Pachulia falling back onto Mirotic’s left leg.

Mirotic was one of two Bulls player to appear in all 82 regular-season games (Aaron Brooks was the other). He tied with Brooks for the team high in 3-point field goal attempts, while also ranking third in rebounds.

“It will be an adjustment,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “He’s a unique player, so can’t really duplicate exactly what he does, but we’ve got guys that can fill in and hopefully hold down the fort.”

Said coach Tom Thibodeau, who has shrugged off injuries as bad or worse than Mirotic’s over the past several seasons: “We’re prepared both ways. That’s the way we have to go into every game. He could play in the next one. It could be two games. I don’t know how many games. He said he feels a lot better today than he did yesterday, which is a good sign.”

Mirotic takes pounding (thigh, knee, head) as Bucks-Bulls series gets physical


VIDEO: Things get more than chippy between Nikola Mirotic and Zaza Pachulia

CHICAGO – As accustomed as the Chicago Bulls have grown with injuries, there’s a Monty Pythonesque “Black Knight” vibe to them sometimes, with even significant ailments and breakdowns getting the “it’s only a flesh wound” treatment.

That’s why the concern over valuable reserve forward Nikola Mirotic after the Bulls’ Game 2 victory over Milwaukee Monday night exceeded the measured tone of the team’s official postgame injury update.

Mirotic, limping considerably afterward both as he left the court and back in the locker room, had suffered a left quadriceps strain and was to be “re-evaluated in the morning.” But the 6-foot-10 rookie who blossomed deep into the season as Chicago’s sixth-man option also had a noticeable knot on his knee. There were worries, too, that he might have a concussion after his skirmish on the floor with 2:48 left to play with Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia. The teams play again Thursday, with the Bulls holding a 2-0 lead as the best-of-seven series shifts to Milwaukee for the next two.

Mirotic didn’t talk with reporters and Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had no further information when he met with the media afterwards. But teammate Pau Gasol did take stock of Mirotic’s hobbled state and didn’t appreciate Pachulia’s rugged work (and ejection) in a game that was much more physical than the series opener.

“Hopefully it won’t be anything serious,” Gasol said. “I think Zaza had a couple of bad plays, not basketball plays. He got penalized with technicals, but [the officials have] just got to protect players.”

Mirotic has averaged 6.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and about 18 minutes in his first two playoff games. That’s a dip from his regular-season numbers, certainly from the 17.7 ppg and 6.6 rpg he averaged after March 1. But Mirotic logged nine minutes in the fourth quarter Monday, a sign of Thibodeau’s trust and the Bulls’ needs for his multiple skills in closing games.

Morning shootaround — April 14


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Smith: LeBron the ‘real MVP’ | Blazers’ Batum, Kaman, McCollum injured | Bulls pumped about Rose’s playoff return | Robinson finds a role in Philly

No. 1: Smith backs James as ‘real MVP’ — Two more days to go and the 2014-15 season will be in the books. As such, folks are starting to reveal their choices for the NBA’s awards (if you missed David Aldridge‘s great column, catch up on it). Aside from NBA writers chiming in on who they like, the players will be doing the same thing and Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith his no exception. After last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons, a game in which LeBron James notched a triple-double, Smith crowed about James’ MVP credentials. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

Shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 109-97 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday, J.R. Smith was interviewed by the Quicken Loans Arena’s in-house emcee. He was asked for his thoughts on LeBron James’ second triple-double of the season and 39th of his career.

“Who? The real MVP?” Smith said, his message echoing to the sellout crowd of 20,562 who were making their way to the exits. “There’s a lot of speculation about who should get the award, but we all know who the real MVP is.”

“In actuality, if you really wanted to, you could give it to him every year,” Smith said of James, who won the award four times in his first 11 seasons in the league. “I mean, the numbers, what he does for teams. You see one year removed from a team like Miami — and they probably won’t even make the playoffs — to a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since he left and then, all of the sudden, we’re a 52-win team. So, I don’t think you can do that with anybody else that’s in our league right now.

“Not to knock anything from the other two guys [Stephen Curry and James Harden]. They’re having great years, career years for both of them, but if you want to be realistic about it, you could give it to him every time.”

ESPN.com analyzed the consensus top six candidates’ cases for MVP on Monday, looking at the merits of James, Harden, Curry, Chris Paul, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, who happens to be the MVP pick of another one of James’ teammates, Kevin Love.


VIDEO: J.R. Smith is fully backing teammate LeBron James for MVP

*** (more…)