Bulls, Thunder both have issues heading into matchup (Oct 28, 2017)

BY AP • October 28, 2017

CHICAGO -- Coming off their first victory of the season, the Chicago Bulls still find themselves dealing with distractions that haven't had a direct impact on their performance on the floor -- but soon could.

A day after published reports suggested that injured forward Nikola Mirotic would rather be traded that mend fences with teammate Bobby Portis, Bulls executive vice president John Paxson acknowledged on Friday that finding an amicable solution won't be easy.

The admission comes after the Bulls snapped a three-game losing streak with a victory Thursday over the Atlanta Hawks and a day before Chicago hosts the scuffling Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center on Saturday.

Mirotic sustained a concussion and facial fractures in an altercation in practice last week with Portis, whom the Bulls suspended for eight games. The Bulls exercised options on five players, including Portis, on Friday, which came on the heels of sources telling several media outlets that Mirotic has given the franchise a "me or him" ultimatum and is willing to waive a no-trade clause in his contract if Portis remains with the team.

Mirotic isn't eligible to be traded until mid-January, but is out for 4-6 weeks while Portis will serve the fifth game of his suspension Saturday against the Thunder.

With the Bulls (1-3) in the midst of a rebuild, Paxson realizes how important establishing chemistry is for a team built around a collection of young talent.

"Your hope is that as time goes on, there can be some communication where (the issue) gets resolved," Paxson told reporters at practice on Friday. "But this is a unique situation. It really is."

Paxson said ultimately the front office must do what's in the best interest of the franchise as a whole.

In the meantime, the Bulls -- who have gotten a huge contribution from rookie Lauri Markkanen and a balanced scoring attack that placed six scorers in double figures in Thursday's win -- must find a way to play through the drama that has been present since last week's Mirotic-Portis incident.

That will continue on Saturday when the Bulls face the Thunder, who fell under .500 on Friday night with a 119-116 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Oklahoma City (2-3) enters Saturday's game having lost three of its last four games following Friday's loss when Russell Westbrook paced the Thunder with 27 points while Carmelo Anthony and Paul George each scored 23.

The loss kept the Thunder winless on the road (0-3) heading into Saturday's visit to Chicago. A lack of execution in the final two minutes Friday night took its toll on the Thunder, who hit only one of their final five shots and who shot 3 of 14 from the field in the final 6:07 of the fourth quarter.

"I thought we executed -- we got our lay-ups, got to our spots -- we just didn't get the ball to go down," Westbrook told reporters after the loss, according to The Oklahoman.

Like the Bulls, the Thunder are attempting to find some cohesiveness with a lineup that has a new look with the additions of Anthony and George.

"We're just trying to figure it out," Westbrook said. "We're trying to find ways to obviously be efficient, but at the same time making sure guys are in a spot to catch the ball and be effective."



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