By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In this whirlwind of a season with ever changing roles for so many Bulls, second-year power forward Bobby Portis wasn’t surprised Saturday when coach Fred Hoiberg explained to him that he wouldn’t be starting. Rotational volatility is a theme of the team’s season, after all.
Portis also shot down the notion that he was further motivated by his shift to a reserve role after starting the past 12 games. What mattered, Portis said, was that he played more freely again in the minutes he did receive.
“Just out there and be myself for a change,” Portis said.
In Chicago’s 95-86 win against the visiting Utah Jazz, Portis did just that. With Nikola Mirotic moved to the starting lineup in an attempt to provide a spark for the reeling Bulls (33-37), Portis scored a career-high 22 points on an efficient 10-of-13 shooting line.
After three tentative single-digit scoring outputs, he felt like himself. Which is largely to say that Portis shot without second thought.
“I feel like the last couple games, I was just kind of hesitant to shoot,” Portis said. “I got to get that out of my system. I just got to, when the shots are there, just take it. I worry too much about shooting too much. At the same time, I went out there and tried to be myself.
“Probably just thinking too much (previously) and not playing the game the way the game is supposed to be played. If the game says shoot, shoot. If the game says pass, pass. That’s what I was always taught.”
Of Portis’ 10 field goals, seven were jumpers, many of the mid-range variety or by doing work several feet by facing up outside the block. He also had a runout dunk off a long pass in the fourth quarter that rewarded his hustle, and his teammates took notice of him.
“Bobby was out there hoopin’,” said teammate Jimmy Butler, who scored a game-high 23 points. “That’s what we want — just play free, take the shots the defense gives you. If you can make your own shot, feel free to do that as well. Just making shots, man. The guy’s got a big-time motor. He’s big for us.”
Like so many teammates, the 22-year-old Portis has had an inconsistent season, a fact he openly acknowledges in pointing out he sometimes play a quality half only to lose his way in the next. Some of that was to be expected from an organization that’s toeing the fine line — and lately stumbling in only winning two of its past nine games — of developing youngsters while making a playoff chase.
For one night, the Bulls were able to juggle both of those goals. In addition to Portis’ strong play, rookie Denzel Valentine scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, which he played in its entirety. The victory lifted Chicago to within 1.5 games of the final playoff spot in the East, which Miami currently holds.
“I feel like it’s progress,” Valentine said. “The whole season has been pretty much inconsistent, you know. It’s been a rough year with injuries, different lineups, everything that’s been going on with us — a new team, basically. It is what it is at this point. We just got to keep moving forward, worry about us.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.