[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e’re coming to the end of the season and the Chicago Bulls can take a quick breath because they are officially in the Playoffs. As of March 29, the Bulls are 6-4 over their last 10 games and have only allowed 98.4 points per game. During the waiting period for the Playoffs, some teams may become dormant and backslide, but the Bulls don’t have that mindset. After a 111-80 rout of the New York Knicks on March 28, coach Tom Thibodeau said the team will remain competitive to the bitter end.
“The thing is, everyone is capable of beating you,” Thibodeau said. “I thought our guys came out with a lot of energy to start the game and we played tough. There are a lot of things we could do better and we have to keep working towards that, but overall we did a lot of good things in that game.”
One of the keys to success for the team has been the emergence of forward Nikola Mirotic. The 24-year-old was a non-factor during the beginning of the year and experts attributed that to growing pains. But as the year progressed, Mirotic did not seem to be picking up the NBA style of play and that was cause for concern. Thankfully for fans and my blood pressure, Mirotic has been killing it of late as the March 28 victory over the Knicks was his eight 20-plus point game of the season. Not only that, but Mirotic has been stepping up in March by averaging 20.6 points and leading the league in fourth-quarter scoring. This has been clutch as the team is just now getting back Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler from injury.
Mirotic is not worried about the pressure of maintaining these numbers though.
“I hear what people say, but I’m trying to stay focused and keep playing like this because it’s one good month,’’ Mirotic said. “It’s not a difference for me. I know I can play, especially in the last quarter, because I played important games in Spain, and I took really important shots, too.’’
Burnout can happen to any rookie, although Mirotic played six years in the Spanish league, but with the reemergence of injured stars, Mirotic can settle down a bit and rest. If anything, he can take a few extra minutes to groom that glorious beard he has been developing all season.