CHICAGO — With his play on the court, Nikola Mirotic is demanding significant playing time even after injured big man Taj Gibson returns to action.
Off the court, though, Mirotic's minutes are of little concern to him right now.
"My role? I don't know," the Chicago Bulls' rookie forward said. "If I play 10 minutes, I don't care. When I'm on the court, I'll try and play good defense and good offense and try to help the team."
Mirotic scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half, Mike Dunleavy added 21 points and Pau Gasol had 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the short-handed Bulls to a 103-86 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
Mirotic, who played 31 minutes off the bench, entered averaging 20.3 points in nine games in March. His previous best scoring month was the 9.9 points he averaged in December.
Gasol believes those numbers warrant a bigger role for Mirotic.
"For sure, for sure," Gasol said. "Once we get everyone back — and hopefully we stay healthy — the coaching staff has to figure how to make sure they take advantage of the players that are playing at a high level now.
"It's great to see young players prove their value and prove their talent and help us get wins."
The Bulls (41-28) snapped a two-game losing streak despite playing without injured starters Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler and Gibson.
Solomon Hill had 13 points to lead six players in double figures for Indiana (30-37).
The teams split the season series 2-2. In the first three meetings, the Pacers held the Bulls to an average of 88.7 points on 37.5 percent shooting. But the Bulls broke through for 51 points in the first half Wednesday, led by Dunleavy's 19 points on 5-for-7 shooting on 3-pointers.
"We've just had some mental lapses early, left 3-point shooters and let them get going," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "We've got some guys that are a little bit out of sync offensively, so we've just got to figure that out."
The Bulls led 51-41 at halftime and never led by less than three points in the second half. Every time the Pacers tried to rally, Mirotic had a response.
"He's spectacular," Vogel said of Mirotic. "Not just second half, but he's given us a lot of problems. He's a threat at the 3-point line, great off the bounce, great with his cutting game. He's a heck of a weapon off the bench, and we clearly didn't do a good enough job on him."
Mirotic also had nine rebounds as the Bulls posted a 52-38 edge on the boards.
The rookie has proved so valuable of late that he's playing a lot of minutes in the fourth quarter, but Mirotic said he has no expectations going forward.
"I want Taj to come back because we need him," he said. "For me, always the most important thing is the team and right now we have 13 games left, so every game is really important for us and we'll go step by step."
NOAH TALKS MINUTES
Speaking on Wednesday for the first time since he sat out the final six minutes of a loss at San Antonio on Sunday because of a minutes limit, Chicago's Joakim Noah tried to defuse the budding controversy of a rift between coach Tom Thibodeau and Bulls management over the situation.
"I'm just trying to stay focused on what's important and trying to win basketball games," he said. "I'm not trying to get caught up in any noise or anything like that. I don't want to be a distraction. We'll figure it out internally and do what's best for the team."
Pacers: Paul George, who broke a leg during a USA Basketball exhibition game over the summer, is practicing on a limited basis, but whether he'll return this season is unclear. It's literally week to week and just see where we're at," coach Frank Vogel said. "If he's not ready to play before (the playoffs), then he's not ready to play. He might not play this year." ... Indiana center Ian Mahinmi left in the third quarter with a bruised forehead after he was inadvertently elbowed by teammate C.J. Watson.
Bulls: They remained short-handed Wednesday, but their health could improve significantly soon. Butler (sprained left elbow) and Gibson (sprained left ankle) are practicing and could return later this week. "Both are coming along well," Thibodeau said. "They're getting closer, they're going through practice fully, contact and everything, so hopefully it'll be soon." ... The Bulls observed a moment of silence before the game for Jack Haley, a member of the 1995-96 team who died Tuesday.
Pacers: Visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
Bulls: Host the Toronto Raptors on Friday.
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