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updated: 2/23/2018 5:09 PM

After a wrong turn, Portis puts his edgy style to good use for Bulls

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  • Chicago Bulls' Bobby Portis expresses his delight after scoring a three-point shot over Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, during the first half of Thursday's game at the United Center. Portis had 38 points and pumped up the crowd with his energy.

    Chicago Bulls' Bobby Portis expresses his delight after scoring a three-point shot over Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid, left, during the first half of Thursday's game at the United Center. Portis had 38 points and pumped up the crowd with his energy.
    Associated Press

 
 

Unlike the Blues Brothers, Bobby Portis isn't exactly on a mission from God.

But he does believe he has a natural gift for getting basketball fans fired up and into the game. He did that quite well Thursday at the United Center while scoring a career-high 38 points against Philadelphia.

"It's a trait I've gotten from God," Portis said after the game. "I can get crowds into it. It's fun to do that, but at the same time it's even better when you win because everybody's happy."

The Bulls lost to Philadelphia 116-115 after giving up 4 free throws in the final 8 seconds. But Portis delivered his best game as a pro, hitting 6 of 9 shots from 3-point range and 15 of 26 overall.

For the most part, the Bulls have a collection of nice, polite personalities in the locker room. So Portis does stand out for his ability to not only rile up the crowd, but also get on opponents' nerves.

"I'm an emotional player," he said. "Whether we're up or down, I'm still going to be myself. I flex a lot, try to get the crowd into it with antics, but that's what I do to help the basketball team, get the crowd involved. It's something I've been doing my whole life."

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg didn't engage the fans and wasn't much of a talker on the court during his playing days. But he enjoys having someone like Portis on his team.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid blocks a shot by Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis in Thursday's game. Portis connected on 15 of 26 shots in the game.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid blocks a shot by Chicago Bulls forward Bobby Portis in Thursday's game. Portis connected on 15 of 26 shots in the game. - Associated Press

"I love Bobby's approach. I love his confidence. I love his aggressiveness," Hoiberg said. "You do need that on your team. As far as talking about polite, good guys in your locker room, I put Bobby up there with any of them.

"He's such a good kid, 'Yes sir, no sir, yes ma'am, no ma'am.' He's just a really good kid that plays with an edge and plays with an aggressiveness that you have to have on your roster."

Hoiberg mentioned Kris Dunn and David Nwaba as Bulls players who can also play with that sort of edge. But Nwaba is very soft-spoken and religious. Nwaba said his on-court conversation with J.J. Redick during Thursday's game was mostly Redick apologizing for accidentally hitting him in the face.

Of course, Portis' nasty streak took a wrong turn just before the regular season. During a practice altercation with Nikola Mirotic, Portis threw a punch that sent Mirotic to the hospital with facial fractures and a concussion. While Mirotic missed the first 23 games of the season, the Bulls suspended Portis for eight games.

The knee-jerk reaction would have been to send Portis packing. But the Bulls decided to believe in his personality and his talent, and not only kept him, but picked up his contract option for next season.

For now, that appears to be a good decision. Portis played well alongside Mirotic, who was traded to New Orleans on Feb. 1, and continued to improve. Portis is averaging 18.1 points and 7.6 rebounds in February. He's legitimately joined Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen as the key pieces in the Bulls' rebuild.

"I didn't (worry after the altercation) because he came with the right attitude," Hoiberg said. "He kept practicing hard and he built on what he had done in the summer. I give everybody credit involved in the situation, especially Niko and Bobby, for not letting it effect the team in a negative way."

Portis has always said when he talks on the court, it's usually to himself. He has been heard yelling, "Come on Bobby," after a missed shot or rebound.

He likes to think of himself as an underdog, with one example the way he unexpectedly dropped to the Bulls with the No. 22 pick in the 2015 draft.

"I've always been a guy that's not been highly talked about, I always fall under the radar a lot, but I believe in myself more than anybody else does," he said Thursday. "I believe in my abilities."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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