<
>

Mirotic shines among young stars

NEW YORK -- Nikola Mirotic couldn't lie after Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge. When asked what he could take from Friday's game back to his Chicago Bulls for the second half of the season, Mirotic had to chuckle a little bit.

"Not too much really," he said after scoring 16 points, going 6-for-9 from the field.

The affable rookie had a point. Like most All-Star exhibitions, defense was optional in the World's 121-112 win over Team USA. Mirotic knew that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn't like the style of play he was participating in, but he enjoyed the experience of playing with some of the best young players in the league. As Mirotic spoke, he acknowledged that maybe Friday's performance would mean a little more to him when the Bulls play their next game on Feb. 20 against the Detroit Pistons.

"I made shots," Mirotic said. "That's the important thing. To make shots, to make fun, that's the important thing."

The 24-year-old has had an up-and-down first season with the Bulls, but he remains confident that he can turn his season back up on a high note.

"In Chicago, I know I have to improve," Mirotic said. "I have to work a lot. Right now I'm not playing on a great level. But I'm still positive and maybe after this game I'll make some shots and maybe I'm going to get more confidence."

Mirotic's ability to space the floor has been big at times for a Bulls squad that struggles to consistently knock down long- range shots. The organization remains hopeful that Mirotic can gain that confidence back in time for the postseason. Bulls GM Gar Forman was in attendance on Friday night to watch his young forward in action.

For Mirotic, his goals in the second half are simple.

"I think I have to work especially on my body, my strength," he said. "I've never worked on my -- I never lifted [before this year] ... here it's really important because they are stronger, they're faster. I'm working on that and my shot."