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Chicago Bulls navigate next steps as Bobby Portis returns to lineup tonight

From NBA media reports

Bobby Portis’ eight-game suspension for his role in his fight with teammate Nikola Mirotic has reached its end. He was back practicing with the team yesterday and is slated to get some backup power forward minutes tonight on the road against the Toronto Raptors (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). What remains for Portis and the Bulls is what was there all along: navigating the waters of adding Portis to the mix while Mirotic is away from the team and still recovering.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune talked with several Bulls players and coaches after Monday’s practice and tries to gauge the status of the team as tonight’s suddenly important game looms:

Meanwhile, though he is free of his concussion symptoms, Nikola Mirotic remains weeks away from returning from the two facial fractures that Portis caused with a punch to the face during an Oct. 17 altercation between the forwards in practice. Mirotic remains upset enough over the disparity in time of absences that he has had little contact with teammates, and his camp has made clear to management that, for now, it doesn’t see a way the two forwards can coexist.

“This is something that unfortunately, it happened,” Hoiberg said. “There was an altercation. And Bobby served the eight-game suspension. It was something that was thought a lot about as far as what the punishment would be, in collaboration with the league. They felt that this was the right punishment. He sat out his games and was able to stay active and practice with us. Now we’ll put him back on the floor. And we welcome him back.”

From the moment management made it clear that Mirotic played an aggressive role leading up to Portis’ inexcusable act, including taking a step in Portis’ direction just before the punch, it has been clear the incident has been a delicate situation. Management, coaches and teammates are trying to support both players.

But how can that happen when Portis is active Tuesday and Mirotic is merely working out on a stationary bicycle and in the pool, weeks away from taking contact on the court?

“Obviously, that’s a difficult situation,” veteran center Robin Lopez said. “The consequences aren’t what you want to happen. Guys understand that there are scuffles. Sometimes, these things happen. But we know the punch shouldn’t have been thrown. We saw the result from that.

“As we mentioned before, our job as teammates is to make sure we try and mend that relationship as much as possible.”

In short, the next steps in the on-and off-court recovery Portis and Mirotic face are unknowns. As Johnson reports, Hoiberg is making it his goal to keep the on-court aspects in line as much as he can:

“I haven’t noticed that in practice,” Lopez said about Portis playing cautiously. “He’s still been competitive, and that’s what you need to be as an NBA player.

“I’m sure there’s a little bit of nerves. But we need energy wherever we can get it. And I think Bobby brings a lot of that energy.”

That’s the role Hoiberg is counting on Portis to play.

“Every time he steps on the floor and we need a jolt of energy, he can provide that for us,” Hoiberg said. “He needs to continue to do those little things that have made him successful when he’s been on the floor his first couple years in the league. And that’s to play with great energy, run the floor, rebound at a high level and follow the game plan defensively. I know his teammates are excited to have him back. I know the coaches are excited to have him back. … The guys, they love Bobby as a teammate.”

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