By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — As Bobby Portis served his suspension for punching teammate Nikola Mirotic, the Bulls maintained that he practiced with his same trademark passion.
Come Tuesday, Portis will finally get to reveal that in game action. Eligible to return after sitting out eight games, Portis will slot in as Chicago’s backup power forward at Toronto on Tuesday evening, coach Fred Hoiberg said.
How big of a role Portis plays remains to be seen, but the Bulls (2-6) want him to provide what Hoiberg termed “a jolt of energy.”
“There are always nerves associated with the first game of the season,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest way to combat that is to go play with energy and do the things that have made him a successful player. Keep it simple. Focus on defending and rebounding. Don’t try to do too much early in his return. I’m sure he’ll be going 100 miles per hour his first time out there. But just give us great energy.”
As Portis returns, Mirotic continues to recover from two facial fractures that are expected to keep him out at least through November and likely longer. He’s added pool work to his biking regimen in the early stages of his rehab, but Mirotic has yet to be cleared for on-court work.
Asked about whether he has mixed emotions seeing Portis return while Mirotic remains sidelined, Hoiberg largely sidestepped the question other than to say he “served the punishment that everybody thought was fair.” Center Robin Lopez did acknowledge it remains a “difficult” situation to see Mirotic out when Portis back, but the Bulls are glad to see Portis return in part because it represents another step forward after an ugly scene.
“Obviously the consequences aren’t what you want to happen,” Lopez said. “I think 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. But I think we’re kind of past that at this point.”
Rookie Lauri Markkanen will continue starting at power forward amid a strong start that includes an NBA record for most 3-pointers (22) made through eight games. Portis may get some minutes alongside Markkanen as well.
“We’ll see how the flow of the game is going and see if we can slide him down to the five and allow he and Lauri to play together for a stretch,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of that will be determined with what lineups they have on the floor.”
Nwaba out 2-4 weeks
Bulls guard David Nwaba will miss two to four weeks with what Hoiberg called a “severe” right ankle sprain. He suffered the injury in the third quarter of Chicago’s loss to New Orleans on Saturday.
It was Nwaba’s third game since being moved into the starting lineup, and Hoiberg liked the different element and style that Nwaba brought.
“He does provide us with something that we don’t have on this team,” Hoiberg said. “His speed is so much better than anybody at his position as far as getting down the floor. He’s given us baskets in transition when we’re struggling to score. He’s even gotten down one-on-four, one-of-five and found a way to get to the basket. So we’ll miss that out of David. We’ll miss his tenacity on the glass. We’ll miss his effort on the defensive end, to get into the other team’s best player and make it tough on them.
Paul Zipser will return to the starting lineup in his place.
LaVine continues progressing
The hope is that Zach LaVine will be cleared for “some element of contact” in about two weeks when the Bulls embark on a four-game West Coast road trip, Hoiberg said. LaVine is going through the final stages of rehab after tearing his left ACL last February while with the Timberwolves.
“Zach is doing pretty much everything with us now 5-on-0, still no contact,” Hoiberg said.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.