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Portis starts, but Mirotic and Gibson flourish in Bulls win

Bobby Portis got his chance. Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson took advantage of theirs.

Portis started at power forward Saturday night, playing 18 minutes and scoring three points while grabbing seven rebounds in the Bulls’ 121-105 win over the Indiana Pacers. Gibson made all nine of his shots and scored 20 and Mirotic had 18 to help the Bulls to their first preseason victory. Dwyane Wade, in 27 minutes, scored 22.

Fred Hoiberg said at Saturday’s shootaround it was decided that Gibson, Mirotic and Portis would each get starts in the first three preseason games, with Portis’ opportunity coming Saturday. The Bulls would then figure out after Saturday whether to continue the de facto starting rotation.

Nor is there a decision on who will be the starter on opening night.

“I’ve seen positives out of all of them,” Hoiberg said.

Early on, Portis didn’t get a big chance to show much. He was replaced by Mirotic with 8:04 left in the first quarter and had been silent.  Portis re-entered with 7:15 remaining in the second and ended the half with a pair of steals, a block and two rebounds.

Portis started the second half and was lifted less than four minutes in and replaced again by Mirotic, who had nine rebounds. In the fourth, Portis scored his first point on a free throw with 6:31 to go.

“I’m just trying to come in and show the coaches that I’m ready to play and I’m going to go out there and do what’s asked of me,” Portis said.

Hoiberg praised Portis, noting how his shot selection has improved, his work in the gym and watching film.

“He loves to be in there and try to improve in every way possible,” Hoiberg said. “Defensively is where I think he’s made his biggest strides. Just needs to continue to communicate early in our coverages – we have to get better at that as a group and Bobby in particular.”

Perhaps, but on Saturday any competition favored Mirotic and Gibson. Things were markedly different than Mirotic’s first two preseason games, when he scored only a combined six points on 2 of 14 shooting.

While Portis is competing with Gibson and Mirotic for a spot in the starting lineup, he’s also likely battling Cristiano Felicio for a consistent spot in the rotation. That feeling of competition is something Portis seems to relish.

“It’s always fun to compete. As a basketball player we all want to compete and ultimately have fun and win,” Portis said. “At the same time, it is kind of like a competition.”

Regardless of whether he lands in the starting lineup, Portis will eventually get his chances. Right now, it’s a question of how many chances and how frequently they’ll come.

“We’ve got five bigs that we can throw in there at any time and we feel pretty comfortable with any of those guys on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “Certain nights if one of them’s not in the rotation maybe we throw them in there if we have a certain matchup.

“It’s important for all these young guys go out there and show what they can do.”

Jimmy Butler scored 15 points in 27 minutes. Rajon Rondo (rest) didn’t dress.

 Follow me on Twitter @BrianSandalow

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