Bulls' Portis making a strong push for more playing time
Earlier this season, Fred Hoiberg could ignore the numbers no longer and added David Nwaba to the starting lineup.
That experiment lasted just a few games since Nwaba sprained his ankle and was sidelined for a month. He has not returned to the starting lineup since the injury. But Nwaba consistently appeared in the Bulls' most successful lineup combinations and Hoiberg had to react.
Forward Bobby Portis has made a similar jump. The Bulls' most successful two-man lineup this season has been Portis and Nikola Mirotic, according to nba.com. That's ironic, since those two players were involved in a costly practice skirmish just before the season opener.
But it also illustrates what has worked well for the Bulls. The reserves have been successful and the Bulls play their best when multiple 3-point shooters are on the floor. Their best three-man lineup is Portis, Mirotic and Denzel Valentine, using groups with a decent sample size.
In the past two games, Portis has averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds. He was the Bulls' plus-minus leader by a wide margin in Friday's loss to the Lakers. Yet, he's rarely on the floor down the stretch in close games.
"Yeah, but I just try to go out there and be a team-first guy, whether I'm out there or not -- cheer my teammates," Portis said Saturday at the Advocate Center. "Try to be a team-first guy. I'm a guy, I don't ever complain about minutes or anything.
"Last night was a fun game to play in, two young teams. I knew I had it going my first shot, when it went in, it felt good. Normally, I don't try to predicate my game on offense any more like I used to. Now I try to play defense a lot now. I feel like I got better at that."
The Bulls have an abundance of stretch-fours on the roster, with Portis, Mirotic and rookie Lauri Markkanen. There are plenty of times when they need to use a bigger center and keep Robin Lopez on the floor. So the frontcourt lineups have been a juggling act.
Hoiberg was asked if Portis' plus-minus numbers -- plus-19 against the Lakers, plus-20 at Philadelphia on Wednesday -- have any meaning.
"Sure it does. Absolutely, it means a lot," he said. "When we were down 12 going into the fourth quarter (Friday) and ended up taking a 3-point lead, Bobby had a big part to do with that, then we hit a little bit of a wall. I thought we had some guys that needed a little bit of a blow.
"We've finished a lot of games off this year with Niko and Lauri. Niko had hit some shots, some unbelievable shots, in the fourth quarter. So that's the lineup we went with."
Portis had played about 10 straight minutes when he gave way to Markkanen at the 4:36 mark of the fourth quarter when the score was tied.
One reason the Bulls' reserves have looked good lately is several starters have been shooting poorly. Justin Holiday is 4-for-19 over the past two games, while Markkanen is 8-for-23. Zach LaVine went 3-for-17 from the field against the Lakers.
At the end of Saturday's practice, Markkanen won an around-the-world, 3-point shooting contest against Portis and Jerian Grant. And yes, there was money on the line.
"Today I got smoked," Portis said. "It was kind of a crazy day for me. But I won yesterday,"
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Outlook: The Bulls beat the Bucks twice in Milwaukee last month and since then, coach Jason Kidd was fired and replaced by assistant Joe Prunty. The Bucks (25-22) have won twice since the coaching change, beating Phoenix and Brooklyn at home. All-star starter Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two games with a sore knee, then returned against the Nets on Friday and delivered 41 points. Guard Malcolm Brogdon missed the Brooklyn game with a calf injury and his status for Sunday is unknown. For the season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.5 points and 10.2 rebounds, followed by SG Khris Middleton (20.4 ppg) and PG Eric Bledsoe (17.5).
Next: Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center on Wednesday, 9 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw