Mirotic returns to practice as Bulls prep for game against Phoenix

The Bulls have been feeling the blues lately with 10 losses in their last 11 games as they prepare to host the Phoenix Suns in the United Center Tuesday.

It's dark, they aren't wearing sunglasses —though perhaps the occasional mask — and they finally may be putting the band back together.

"It's good having Niko back," Bulls veteran spokesman Robin Lopez told reporters at Monday's practice. "A chance for Zach to come back; Dave will be back any day now. It's fantastic."

The Bulls Monday got injured Nikola Mirotic back practicing with the team. Though he will not play Tuesday, said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. Zach LaVine is advancing quickly in his rehabilitation from knee surgery and also practicing with the team. David Nwaba out more than three weeks with a sprained ankle is closing in on a return.

Do you see the light! Do you see the light! The Band!

"It's great having Niko back on the floor," agreed Hoiberg. "Just looking at where we are right now, getting Zach back with full contact and David is going to try to do a little bit in practice and then getting Niko back on the floor with us is a very important step. As far as what he can provide on the floor, he's had some really good moments in this league and given us some great production. Getting him back out here is certainly a step in the right direction. The plan is for him to do some contact and see how he responds and then put a plan together from there."

And, no, he hasn't spoken with Bobby Portis.

Well, it's not like Blue Lou and Matt "Guitar" Murphy seemed that close.

Robin Lopez at the Advocate Center during team practice

"That's something (disliking a teammate) a lot of people have encountered in the league," offered Lopez. "But we're professionals for a reason, right?"

Examples for you?

"Brook Lopez."

It's probably not a laughing matter for Mirotic, but at some point it's time to go to work and not be distracted by your personal dislikes.

Of course, this Bulls redevelopment season has endured the ugly scene of the preseason punch from Bobby Portis that fractured bones in Mirotic's face. Portis was suspended for eight games. Portis is averaging 12.8 points and 7.5 rebounds since his return, but has been mostly pedestrian since he scored 41 points in his first two games back.

Mirotic as a result of his injuries has not played this season. He recently began solo workouts at the Advocate Center and Monday joined the team. There have been rumors and anonymous source reports that he or associates demanded Portis or he be traded or that he would not play or practice with Portis. No one officially has acknowledged that for the record.

But if Mirotic is healthy, NBA labor rules requires he play. He cannot be traded until mid-January due to his late signing date. There have been no indications the Bulls are in talks with any team regarding a trade.

Lauri Markkanen will remain the starter no matter when Mirotic returns, said Hoiberg. Mirotic is scheduled to travel with the team to Denver for Thursday's game.

Fred Hoiberg at the Advocate Center during team practice

"There will have to be some interaction at some point, obviously, now that they're out there playing together," said Hoiberg. "They'll be on the same team and playing against each other (in practice). So it is important to get those guys communicating, which I think we're all confident will happen. The important thing is getting Niko back on the floor and with the team. It sounds like he had a great week of workouts in the weight room and also on the floor."

And it certainly seems like teammates are extending a welcome for Mirotic.

Lopez has had the locker next to Mirotic and says he's looking forward to his return.

"I love being next to the guy," said Lopez. "I love having him with us right now.

"Niko's a great shooter, a good scorer from anywhere on the floor," said Lopez. "He has good basketball instincts. I know he gets a little flak for not being a good defender, but there were games last year where we had him on the court down the stretch and he made huge defensive plays for us. He's gives us a big (boost) on both ends of the floor as a basketball player.

"Wins," Lopez added, "would be awesome."

Like Cheez Wiz on a stormy night.