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The Chicago Niko’s are 4-0


NBA: Utah Jazz at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls are now 4-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned to the team after his face was broken by a teammate’s punch in practice, as they handed the Utah Jazz their 4th straight loss, a 103-100 final.

Mirotic, starting again for a back-spasm’d Lauri Markkanen, was the Bulls leading scorer with 29, on 11-18 shooting. He had 11 points in the 3rd quarter alone, just letting it fly much of the night.

It was a needed point in the game as the Jazz, who were fairly abysmal for much of the first half (11 turnovers), went on runs to end the 2nd quarter and to open the third. They finally were doing damage with their 2-pg setup of Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio.

Mitchell was pretty spectacular outside of going 1-7 from three, finishing with a game-high 32 points and leading the Jazz down the stretch in what was an up and down final period.

Kris Dunn shot pretty terribly (including an airballed floater) for much of this game, and was 4-16 from the field heading into the final minutes. But while Niko only contributed 2 points in that final frame, it was Dunn who hit his last two jumpers, including this one that more-or-less sealed the game.

Dunn looked good in other aspects, especially in the first half where he was getting penetration fairly easily and finding Robin Lopez or his own mid-range looks. Lopez faded down the stretch in terms of his shooting but started the game dominating the inside matchup with Rudy Gobert. Gobert and Derrick Favors combined for 8 points in a 56 minutes, and were held to a 12% offensive rebound percentage.

Dunn also had 4 steals, including this pretty pick-6:

It was also another game where the Bulls feasted at the line, at least in terms of attempts, shooting 67% on 21 trips versus the Jazz only taking 7 freebies. Even Denzel Valentine made a pair!

It was a fairly evenly-distributed scoring load for the Bulls, who had sum lulls in the 2nd half (including a predictable Jazz run after a Bobby Portis flex) but ultimately made enough plays down the stretch and really looked like the better team throughout. Which is pretty amazing to say, given the Bulls were looking like one of the worst teams in NBA history as recently as last week. They don’t even have the worst season record anymore.

It’s just 4 games with some advantageous matchups, but Nikola Mirotic has been good enough to elevate this team to the basement instead of the sub-basement outhouse or whatever. Now that he’s been given a role to thrive, pair him with Jimmy Butler and we may have something! Wait, no, I guess it’s going to be hoping his trade value is upped to where they can get a pick for him? That’s less exciting, but ultimately beneficial somewhat. In the meantime it’s been fun to watch him play well and validate what his talent has suggested for a while. Even if it’s on a wasted season. If you think about it, Niko does typically play better when the pressure’s off, maybe that’s this whole year for him.