Portis gives Chicago Bulls a different look for starting lineup
Bobby Portis is now the Bulls' starter at power forward, but his exact role in the rotation remains unsettled.
In the first two games after the all-star break, Portis started, logging just 16 and 19 minutes, mostly because Nikola Mirotic played well off the bench.
Portis' two best games this month came when he was backing up Taj Gibson. Portis scored 19 points against Boston before the break, playing most of the crunchtime minutes, and he had 16 at Minnesota on Feb. 12, one of those games when the Bulls were short-handed due to injuries.
After Gibson was traded to Oklahoma City, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson emphasized that management wants Portis to play.
So here is, taking a starting job at a time when the Bulls are on the upswing. They'll try to notch a season-high five-game win streak Tuesday against Denver.
"That's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation," Portis said Monday at the Advocate Center. "It's great fun to go out there and play."
It's easy to forget Portis finished his rookie season as a consistent part of the rotation. He played double-figure minutes in 36 of the Bulls' final 38 games last season.
This year, the opportunities weren't as frequent. While Portis talked Monday about not understanding the reasons why, it seems clear from the outside. With Gibson and Robin Lopez starting all season and Cristiano Felicio's steady play, there wasn't much room for Portis and Mirotic to get playing time.
"It's hard to play five bigs. It really is," coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday. "He's continued to work in practice and that's why we put him back in the lineup, because we felt he would give us a chance to win games, and he did that."
Last season, Felicio didn't play much and Portis took advantage when Joakim Noah was sidelined by a shoulder injury. This time, a clear opportunity never presented itself until the Gibson trade.
"One thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry," Portis said of his low playing time this season. "That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded."
As the Bulls move onward, it appears Portis will start, Mirotic will come off the bench, and whichever forward has the hot hand will play down the stretch.
It will be interesting to see how Portis plays with the starters. Gibson was more of a power player who could score in the post and hit midrange jumpers. Portis can extend his range to the 3-point line, which could give Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade more space to attack the basket.
"The one thing it does allow us to do is our first and second groups are playing very similar," Hoiberg said. "Before that, that first unit really had its own package. We ran a lot of ball screens with one of those two bigs coming in short and trying to roll into the pocket and play that way.
"That second group had more of a spacing dynamic to it with Niko and Bobby. Now, we have a similar style with that first and second unit."
Lopez has been very good lately, averaging 12.9 points in February, so there wasn't as much need for a second post scorer. The biggest reason the Bulls traded Gibson, of course, was he'll be a free agent this summer and they didn't expect him to return.
Gibson was a well-respected teammate in his eight seasons with the Bulls, and he made an impact on Portis.
"With Taj, he was always saying, 'Always stay ready BP, because around this league crazy things happen,'" Portis said. "You know, crazy things happened for real, so it was just a crazy moment a couple days ago."
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Bulls game dayBulls vs. Denver Nuggets at the United Center, 7 p.m. Tuesday
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The Nuggets (26-33) are trying to hang onto the eighth playoff spot in the West, but have lost three of their last four. Denver used an unconventional lineup Sunday with top scorer Danilo Gallinari (17.4 ppg) at power forward, with SF Wilson Chandler (15.8 ppg) and C Nikola Jokic (15.6 points, 8.9 rebounds) rounding out the front line. SG Gary Harris, one of the players acquired in the Doug McDermott draft-night trade, is averaging 14.2 ppg. PG Emanuel Mudiay has played in just one of the last nine games due to a back injury. PF Kenneth Faried missed Sunday's loss to Memphis with a back injury and his status is unclear. The Nuggets rank fourth in the league in offense at 110.6 ppg, and 28th in points allowed (111.7). The Bulls lost at Denver 110-107 on Nov. 22, despite 35 points from Jimmy Butler. Rookie SG Jamal Murray led the Nuggets with 24 points that night.
Next: Golden State Warriors at the United Center on Thursday, 7 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw