Portis sets another career-high as Bulls win fifth straight
MILWAUKEE -- For most of the decade, the Bulls could count on a cheering advantage whenever they played at the Bradley Center. Bulls fans always turned out in big numbers.
But this is the rebuilding season. Fans weren't asked to believe in this team, so there were relatively few spectators wearing red when the Bulls visited Milwaukee on Friday.
No one counted on the Dynamic Duo, the Odd Couple, the Sparring Partners -- whatever you want to call them -- stretching the Bulls' unlikely win streak to five in a row with a 115-109 victory over the Bucks.
Bobby Portis led the way with a career-high 27 points, his second personal-best of the week. Close behind was Nikola Mirotic with 22 points.
The teammates who got into a costly fight in practice just before the season opener are now leading a surprising revival. After the victory, both players were asked if they can appreciate the irony of this situation.
"I do. It's been crazy, to be honest. I never thought," Mirotic said. "We did play last year a little bit together, but it was not the same like now. I think we both stepped up. I think we learned how to play with each other during the game."
All right, take it a step farther. It's been well-documented that Mirotic and Portis are not friends, and have not spoken off the court since the Oct. 17 altercation, which sent Mirotic to the hospital with facial fractures. But after five straight wins, is it possible to crack open a beer and celebrate with Portis on the bus ride home?
"No. We don't need to go that way," Mirotic said. "But we just need to be focused and prepare ourselves for Monday."
Portis can come at this from a different angle. He tried to formally apologize after the altercation, his messages were not returned, so he decided to just move on.
"Me and Niko, we don't care about this situation anymore," Portis said. "Everything's for the team. We're professionals. We're basketball players and this is our job. Ultimately, we have to come in here every day, put our shoes on and play together and find a way to make it work.
"I feel like we've done that up to this point and it's been fun playing with Niko. He's a heck of a player. He's been playing out of his mind ever since he came back and I'm happy for him. I'm happy to have him back."
Mirotic actually got two early fouls in Friday's game and went to the bench with the Bulls trailing 16-6. But Portis came in and hit a couple of 3-pointers. David Nwaba, another early sub, got going quickly and the Bulls took a 33-30 edge by the end of the first quarter.
The game stayed tight throughout the fourth quarter, when the Bulls (8-20) found an unusual winning strategy. Milwaukee used four guards with 6-foot-11 star Giannis Antetokounmpo (29 points). Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg kept Portis and Mirotic on the floor, but had the 6-4 Nwaba guarding Antetokounmpo.
It's a lineup that's worked well for the Bulls recently, and they were able to hang onto the lead down the stretch. The biggest play was Mirotic hitting an off-balance bank shot for a 3-point play, putting the Bulls up 112-107 with 1:07 left,
"A really good gritty win," Hoiberg said. "I saw a lot of growth in our guys, to have to go out there with three or four guys with blood on their uniforms. I loved it and we found a way to win a tough road game. Just really proud of our effort tonight."
Mirotic was asked if he has any more predictions now that the Bulls are 5-0 since he returned.
"Yeah, 6-0 after Monday," he said.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.