By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Both before and after a 96-90 overtime loss to the Pelicans at the United Center on Saturday evening, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t firmly commit to power forward Bobby Portis seeing the floor against the Raptors on Tuesday, which marks the first game he’s eligible to play after serving his eight-game suspension for punching teammate Nikola Mirotic.
“We’ll see,” Hoiberg said.
All Hoiberg would confirm is that rookie Lauri Markkanen will continue starting at power forward after a strong start that’s included him setting the NBA record for most 3-pointers (22) through eight career games. As for Portis, the Bulls were set to discuss the situation internally on Sunday’s off day and evaluate practice Monday before settling on a plan.
It’s likely he will see action, as players are operating under that assumption Portis will play and it would open up another unwanted line of questioning and mini-drama if he sat again.
Whenever Portis does take the floor, the Bulls expect the same intensity they’ve been accustomed to seeing from him, save for the rage that contributed to him crossing the line in the Oct 17 altercation with Mirotic.
“The thing about Bobby is — y’all know — Bobby’s a competitor,” Justin Holiday said. “He’s going to come in and do what he has to do. I don’t think there’s much we have to tell Bobby. And he’s itching to play.”
Holiday downplayed the idea that Portis is “nervous,” though he acknowledged he’s surely “anxious.”
“Bobby loves to play this game,” Holiday said. “Really, Bobby’s one of the most competitive people I’ve been around. I mean, obviously we’re all very competitive, but when Bobby gets on that court, man, he loves to play this game. And he plays like there’s a chip on his shoulder all the time.
“I can look at Bobby and tell. I can look at Bobby, you can see it in his eyes.”
In the absence of Portis and Mirotic, Markkanen is averaging 33.0 minutes, Robin Lopez is averaging 32.3 and Cris Felicio is logging 16.0. Some of Paul Zipser’s 22.1 minutes a night have also come at power forward. Markkanen’s play should continue to warrant his same workload, so Portis’ minutes are likely to come at the expense of Lopez, Felicio and those that Zipser was logging as a big man.
Portis has been practicing with the Bulls during his suspension, a fact that hasn’t sat well with Mirotic’s camp, per reports. There will still be an assimilation process, though, because that practice role has been reduced in the name of readying others for games.
“He’s working extremely hard,” Hoiberg said. “Really, when everything happened, we had to put together makeshift lineups, guys that hadn’t played positions. So those guys were getting most of the reps in practice, because obviously they were the ones that were going to play in the games. Bobby’s been getting a lot of extra work in before and after practice. We’ll give him a lot of reps here (Monday). He’s a competitive kid. I know he’s excited to get back.”
Of course, the black cloud that still hangs over this rebuilding season for the Bulls is whether Mirotic and Portis can ever co-exist again on the same team. As his two facial fractures continue to heal with his concussion subsiding, Mirotic has ramped up his activity to include pool work in addition to biking, but he hasn’t been cleared for on-court work, Hoiberg said. Beyond that, Mirotic currently wants no part of being around Portis, as his work at the Advocate Center has come with the team on the road or during off hours. He’s open to a trade, per reports.
Throughout the ugly ordeal, the Bulls have admitted they don’t have the answers. They’re attempting to figure out on a day-to-day basis by respecting Mirotic’s wishes and following his lead while still doing what’s best for the organization.
On Monday, that means readying Portis for game action. On Tuesday, that means he likely sees the court.
“We’ve been playing with such great energy,” Lopez said. “And Bobby is the epitome of energy, I feel like.
“He’s handled it as well as he could of. I don’t exactly what’s going to happen going forward with the rotations or anything, but I know he’s mentally prepared for it, and we’re excited to have him back.””
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.