LIVE: Bulls aim for revenge vs. Bobcats on CSN

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LIVE: Bulls aim for revenge vs. Bobcats on CSN

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
10:40 a.m.

Associated Press

The Chicago Bulls avoided a letdown their last time out and aren't likely to overlook the struggling Charlotte Bobcats, either.

Looking for an 11th win in 13 games overall, the Bulls hope to avoid a third loss in four meetings with a Bobcats team that could again be without leading scorer Stephen Jackson on Wednesday night.

After road wins over two of the Eastern Conference's top teams - Orlando and Miami - Chicago (44-18) returned home Monday to face a New Orleans team missing four-time All-Star Chris Paul.

A day after completing a season sweep of the Heat and staying ahead of them for second place in the East, the Bulls were somewhat lethargic against the Hornets and the game was tied with three minutes to play. However, they pulled off an 85-77 victory to move within 2 12 games of Boston for the conference lead.

"It was a good win," said Joakim Noah, who had 13 rebounds. "It was a win that we really needed. You look at the top four, five teams in the East, everything is really close. So every game is very important. We understand that. We're just staying focused on improving and winning."

The Bulls must keep that focus against the Bobcats (26-37), the only sub-.500 team to beat them more than once this season. Chicago lost the first two meetings while averaging just 86.5 points before recording a 106-94 home win Feb. 15 behind Luol Deng's 24 points and Derrick Rose's 13 assists - he totaled 11 in the first two matchups.

Noah, who missed all three meetings with a thumb injury, is averaging 16.5 points and 13.3 rebounds in his last four games in the series.

The Bulls have lost four of five at Charlotte, but they completed a 4-1 trip in Miami and are one road win away from surpassing their total from last season (17).

"The city is excited about this team and I think they have a right to be, but for us as players you know, our mentality is different," Noah said. "You got to take it game by game, not get too excited and really focus on the moment, focus on playing game by game and staying consistent."

One area in which Chicago has been extremely consistent is defense. While they are allowing an NBA-low 91.5 points per game, the Bulls have held opponents to 81.1 points on 40.2 percent shooting over their current 6-1 stretch.

That doesn't bode well for Charlotte, averaging 81.2 points and shooting 40.7 percent over a season-worst five-game losing streak. The Bobcats are 3-22 when scoring 90 or less.

Jackson, averaging 19.0 points, was held out for the second consecutive contest Monday night with an injured left hamstring as Charlotte fell 92-87 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

"We were close, but anytime you take the best player out of your lineup, you're going to suffer," coach Paul Silas said. "We tried hard. We just didn't have enough."

Jackson's status for Wednesday is unknown, but forward Tyrus Thomas could return following a 23-game absence after undergoing knee surgery.

Thomas, who spent three-plus seasons with the Bulls, had 17 points and 13 rebounds in a 96-91 win over his former team Jan. 12.

"Jack and Tyrus are two big keys to our team," guard Gerald Henderson said. "Overall, we're going to need them to win."

Henderson scored 20 points Monday and is averaging 14.7 over the last nine games - 7.1 more than his season mark.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."