By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (670 The Score) — It was on Dec. 6 that the Bulls reached rock bottom, blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter and collapsing in the final minutes of a 98-96 road loss to the Pacers. It dropped Chicago to a league-worst 3-20.
No one imagined what has followed. Since Dec. 8, the Bulls have gone 10-2, a resurgence that continued with a 119-107 victory against those same Pacers at the United Center on Friday night. After the defending champion Warriors’ loss to the Hornets late Friday, the Bulls now have the best mark in the NBA over the past three weeks.
That which no one saw coming has left the Bulls a bit philosophical themselves.
“What doesn’t break you makes you stronger,” forward Niko Mirotic said in Spanish and relayed through a reporter in English.
Mirotic has been a leading figure in the Bulls’ success, with his return from injury coinciding with the start of the Bulls’ 10-2 surge. He kept it up Friday, scoring a season-high 28 points and hitting eight 3-pointers, which was just one off the franchise record that he shares with Ben Gordon. Mirotic’s marksmanship headlined a Bulls shooting clinic in which they hit a franchise record-tying 18 3-pointers and shot 50.6 percent overall.
Afterward, Mirotic continued to showcase his self-assured demeanor, declaring “it’s my moment” and adding that his son asked him before the game to hit five 3-pointers. Mirotic thought he should’ve made 10 or more, given the quality looks he had.
“He’s just so confident right now,” Hoiberg said of Mirotic. “I really, truly believe that’s rubbing off on our entire team, just the way he’s going out there and playing with confidence and swagger. It’s been fun.”
Mirotic had plenty of help on a night in which starting point guard Kris Dunn was a late scratch with left knee tendinitis. Rookie Lauri Markkanen set his career-high with 32 points, shooting 11-of-17 and 5-of-9 on 3-pointers. He closed alongside Mirotic in a shooting-heavy lineup.
“The personnel, the spacing that we have, those shots are open,” Valentine said of the 3-point barrage. “The thing we’re really underrated at, when we’re on and getting into the paint, when we’re getting into the paint, we create those threes. We got guys who can make them.”
The Bulls moved to 13-22 with the win, further putting their tank on hold. They’re four games clear of the worst record in the NBA and five games out of the eighth seed in the East. Asked whether the Bulls have bigger-picture goals in mind, Hoiberg downplayed that thought process, saying, “When you put the small goals out there, the bigger goals take care of themselves.”
It’s a line echoed by Valentine, who has previously talked playoffs.
“We want to try to compete and do whatever we can,” Valentine said. “I don’t know what our ceiling is. If we just focus on, like Fred said, just winning every day, then we can get to the point we’re talking playoffs and everything. We just got to attack every day.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.