Lineup change jump-starts Portis as Bulls beat Jazz

By the time a basketball player reaches the NBA, he should be well beyond needing a little kick in the shorts to start playing well.

The young Bulls don't seem to have reached that level of maturity.

All season long, a little time on the bench has worked wonders and Saturday's game against Utah provided another start example.

Nikola Mirotic, playing well again after three games on the bench, moved into the starting lineup ahead of Bobby Portis. Wouldn't you know it, coming off the bench against the Jazz, Portis produced his career-high of 22 points and led the Bulls to a 95-86 victory over the Jazz at the United Center.

“I don't know if it's a motivation thing,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It's about going out there and being true to who you are. Young guys in this league are going to have up and downs.”

Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 23 points and 7 assists, while rookie Denzel Valentine produced 11 points and 12 rebounds.

The Bulls' subs brought some pretty good energy and Hoiberg rewarded Portis, Valentine and Michael Carter-Williams with fourth-quarter playing time. Joffrey Lauvergne was also on the floor for some of the time, although he didn't play in the first three quarters.

It's easy to criticize Hoiberg for changing the rotation so frequently, but he's dealing with a roster full of players who are inconsistent.

Valentine didn't need any bench time to get rolling. After going 0-for-5 from the field in the first half, the rookie brought some much-needed outside shooting, hitting all 3 of his 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter.

Valentine knocked down a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter to put the Bulls ahead, then grabbed a defensive rebound and hit Portis with a long pass for a fast-break dunk and the Bulls led 77-73 with 6:51 left.

“My teammates did an incredible job of picking me up and making me feel confident,” Valentine said. “Jimmy kept telling me to shoot it. Mike kept telling me to shoot it, next one's going to go in. When you hear that from your teammates, you know that they believe in you. So that boosts your confidence.”

Utah pulled within 85-83 before Butler found Robin Lopez for a jumper and Carter-Williams added a 3-point play to put the Bulls in command 90-83 with 2:01 left.

The Bulls got off to a rough start, falling behind 18-6. The turnaround started right around the same time Portis checked in for Mirotic at the 3:27 mark of the first quarter. The second-year forward from Arkansas hit all 6 of his shot attempts in the first half while scoring 13 points.

“I had a good talk with (Portis) and just told him I wanted to change the flow and get him back coming off the bench and get that confident, hard-playing guy that's going to go out and throw his body around,” Hoiberg said. “When you do that and worry about the little things, go out there and rebound and screen and hit guys, your offense tends to come.

• Get the latest Bulls news via Twitter by following @McGrawDHBulls.

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