Sur­prise: Mirotic re­turns

Chicago Sun-Times - - BULLS BEAT - BY HERB GOULD For the Sun-Times Fol­low me on Twit­ter@Her­bGould.

On Satur­day, the Bulls got healthy.

Jimmy But­ler (knee) and Taj Gib­son (ham­string) al­ready were sched­uled to play against the Rock­ets. Nikola Mirotic, who last played on Jan. 25, was a sur­prise re­turnee.

Mirotic (ap­pen­dici­tis), who had been side­lined by two surg­eries, only had re­turned to prac­tice on Fri­day.

Af­ter feel­ing good in non­con­tact drills, Mirotic de­cided to see how he fared in the full prac­tice.

“He made it through full con­tact [on Fri­day], and he [wanted] to give it a go,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said be­fore the game. “He took a charge — it might be the first one in his life — and he felt great [Satur­day]. So the doc­tors were com­fort­able with him giv­ing it a shot.’’

Af­ter a quiet first half (no points in four min­utes), Mirotic was ac­tive in the se­cond half, when he made two three-point­ers and fin­ished with seven points.

The trio of re­turnees leaves only one side­lined Bull— Joakim Noah, who’s out with sea­son-end­ing shoul­der surgery.

Taj was antsy

Al­though Gib­son was listed as ques­tion­able, he said there was no way he was go­ing to miss the game against the Rock­ets, not af­ter squirm­ing while watch­ing the Bulls’ road loss Wed­nes­day against the Magic.

“I told them, ‘I’m go­ing to try to play, no mat­ter what,’ ’’ Gib­son said. “We can’t just try to rest right now. We’re com­pet­ing for a play­off spot. When you go home, you can rest all you want. But right now, it’s about the team, team first, try to get some wins.’’

Gib­son, who had not missed a game un­til Wed­nes­day, said the Bulls’ de­fen­sive strug­gles made him de­ter­mined to suit up quickly.

“It was rough to see the last game,’’ Gib­son said. “You’ve got to get back to the ba­sics. It will be fun hav­ing [But­ler] back out there. But we have to put the ef­fort out there, have to come out with the right mind­set.’’

But­ler wants de­fense

Like Gib­son, But­ler was ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity to help the Bulls, who were 3-8 while he was side­lined, get back on track and se­cure a play­off berth.

“Very frus­trat­ing [to be out],’’ he said. “But I don’t think we’ve been play­ing de­fense all year. I think we just outscore op­po­nents a lot of the times. We’re a tal­ented group of guys, but not that tal­ented to outscore ev­ery­body ev­ery night. Ob­vi­ously, we’ve got to guard. We’ve been say­ing that all year. I know you [me­dia] guys have heard it a mil­lion times. Hope­fully, I can help.’’

Hoiberg ‘feels good’ Bol­stered by all the re­turn­ing play­ers, Hoiberg is feel­ing re­lieved and is de­ter­mined to re­store de­fense and suc­cess to a strug­gling team.

“It feels good,’’ Hoiberg said. “We just have to get those guys in­te­grated into how we’re try­ing to play. Jimmy ob­vi­ously gives us a great pres­ence out there, and he’s go­ing to bring guys with him. He gives us a guy on the wing who can de­fend the elite play­ers in the league.’’

This and that

Hoiberg’s dis­tinc­tion as the only NBA coach with­out a tech­ni­cal this sea­son seemed in dan­ger in the se­cond quar­ter.

But the of­fi­cials an­nounced they were tee­ing up a Bulls as­sis­tant for giv­ing an un­wanted opin­ion.

Derrick The Rose, Bulls’ But­ler, start­ing Mike­five of Dun­leavy, Gib­son and Pau Ga­sol was their 16th dif­fer­ent lineup. This was the first time But­ler and Dun­leavy were on the floor to­gether this sea­son.

Bulls play­ers have missed 142 games to ill­ness or in­jury this sea­son. Last sea­son, they missed

| GETTY IM­AGES

Af­ter miss­ing the gameWed­nes­day against the Or­lando Magic, Taj Gib­son re­turned Satur­day against the Hous­ton Rock­ets and had four points and seven re­bounds.

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