The Bulls got the old gang back together for Saturday’s nationally televised game with the Houston Rockets.
Well, not everyone as Joakim Noah is out for the season after shoulder surgery. Though Noah is expected to rejoin the team next week for at least moral support.
But before Saturday’s game, the Bulls got some more encouraging news with coach Fred Hoiberg saying Nikola Mirotic, who was expected to be out several more weeks after complications from appendix surgery, would be able to play.
“I know my body because I am young, I am recovering quick,” Mirotic said after coming off the court from a pregame workout. “It is true I had a really hard time in the hospital. When I saw my team, I know they miss me; I miss them. For me, it was huge energy to get back as soon as I can. I have really been working hard and here I am.”
Mirotic will not start, but the starting lineup is as healthy as it’s been this season.
The Bulls will open with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler in the backcourt, Mike Dunleavy at small forward, Taj Gibson at power forward and Pau Gasol at center. That was one iteration of a preseason starting lineup that was possible, but which never played together. They probably will the best of the season as Butler returns from missing 11 games with a knee injury and Gibson is back from a hamstring issue.
The Bulls had been starting Mirotic earlier in the season, but moved Gibson for defense while Dunleavy recuperated from offseason back surgery. It’s likely Gibson, if healthy, will remain a starter with Mirotic coming off the bench.
It strengthens the Bulls bench again and gives them two big three point shooters in Mirotic and Doug McDermott coming in relief.
Though the big return is Butler, without whom the Bulls went 3-8.
“I love this team,” Butler said after practice Friday of a return. “I’ll fight for this team. I just think it’s disappointing for myself, for the organization and for the fans that we have not brought the fight every night. It’s OK to lose, but it’s not OK to lose the way that we have been.”
The Bulls were hoping to change that against the also disappointing Rockets, who came in 30-31 after going to the Western Conference finals last season. The Bulls are 30-30 and are glad to begin getting healthy.
“I know every game is important,” said Mirotic. “I want to be there. I am really tired to wear suits and sit on the bench. I want to play, I want to be there and support my team
“I am four, five pounds down,” Mirotic said of having gained back about 10 pounds. “I have been working really hard in the weight room and we will see how it goes the first game. The most important to me is to be strong mentally and compete
“I need to (know the) first couple of games will be slow,” said Mirotic. “I am ready to play some minutes. I saw in the practice (Friday) I am feeling much better. I need to get a little more strength I lost and am working hard. I will get that back soon
“I was terrible (after the surgery),” Mirotic admitted. “I was seven days in the hospital without food, just drinking liquids, I lost 16, 17 pounds. I knew it would be hard. I was trying to stay positive, tell myself, ‘Niko, stay positive, take your time, recover soon.’ I knew I would recover in the regular season. It was hard, but another experience in my life