CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In a season that has featured a dramatic amount of twists and turns for the Chicago Bulls, Monday night's 115-109 win over the Charlotte Hornets provided another series of intriguing subplots as the Bulls snapped a five-game losing streak.
Rajon Rondo, who hadn't started a game since Dec. 30, was reinserted in the starting lineup and rattled off a season-high 20 points with seven rebounds and six assists.
Rondo, who has been outspoken about the fact that he thought the reasoning for his benching earlier this season was "bulls---," made the most of his opportunity playing alongside Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade again.
"That's what I came here for," Rondo said. "But like I said, it's a process I went through. It didn't kill me. It's decisions people made that's out of my league."
Rondo said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg texted him after Sunday's game and spoke to him Monday morning to tell him about the decision. Rondo replaced Jerian Grant in the starting lineup, the third time this season a Bulls point guard has gone from starting one game to not playing the following game because of a coaching decision.
"I'm just going to take it one game at a time," Rondo said. "I won't try to worry about the past. We can't change that. So we got to try to continue to move forward and make a push."
Hoiberg said before the game that he was putting Rondo back in the starting lineup to push the tempo of the first group. The Bulls responded by outscoring the Hornets 36-24 in the first quarter, while registering 29 assists on the night.
"Rajon was big time all game long," Hoiberg said. "Pace, throwing the ball ahead, having the guys run with him -- it was fun to see."
Rondo's impact on the game was noticeable to his teammates.
"Rondo definitely brought something different that we haven't seen in a while," Wade said. "What Rondo brings to the game is pace. Which allows [us] to get the ball up the court. We're moving the ball, and our bodies are moving as well. It's easy basketball to play. It becomes contagious. It starts with our point guard and then it goes down the line."
Rondo is hopeful his performance keeps him in the starting lineup for a while.
"It's only so many things you can change up," Rondo said. "[Hoiberg's] focus, he was trying to make a push. I would love to be in the starting lineup, but you never know. I think this game will get me back starting the next game in a couple days."
As Rondo returned to prominence, so did another Bull who has struggled to find a consistent role all season: Nikola Mirotic.
After being taken out of the rotation and listed as inactive in advance of Sunday's loss to the Boston Celtics, Mirotic found himself back on the floor and made the most of his new chance. He scored a team-high 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
"It means a lot," Mirotic said. "I was inactive last game and I didn't play the last three games, and Coach wanted me to be ready. So I've been working on myself, been in the weight room, put some extra hours in shooting and really came to the game with a lot of energy. I think that energy helped me to get some good shots. Be very solid on defense -- it was very positive."
Both Wade and Butler said they spoke to Mirotic before the game to keep his confidence up.
"Me and Jimmy talked to Niko before the game and told him we need him, man," Wade said. "We're not going to make the playoffs without him. We just want to let him know that we need his focus, we need his ability to shoot the ball on the floor, we need him to make shots. He was getting that confidence and then going out there and then he came right in the game firing it up. We need that. We won't make the playoffs without Niko playing good basketball. Is he going to get 24 every night? No. But just his ability to be on that floor to make shots is huge for our team."
Hoiberg lauded Mirotic for "playing within himself" during the game, and it was obvious throughout the night that the 26-year-old played with a renewed sense of passion that has appeared sporadically throughout the season because of his inconsistent role.
"It's obvious I was not happy with the situation," Mirotic said. "Nobody's happy sitting on the bench, not playing -- but like I said before, there's not too much I can do. Just be ready. Work on yourself and once your chance came, try to prove it. I want to forget about this game as soon as I can because I want to stay ready, stay aggressive."
Hoiberg also praised Rondo for the way he has handled his benching this season.
"I take my hat off to him," Hoiberg said. "For everything he's gone through in his career, to handle the situation like he did, and continue to battle ... hopefully he'll play well the rest of the year and inject that life back into our team."
The life the Bulls played with Monday was noticeable. There was a shared happiness in winning that hasn't been seen often during this season. There was a palpable sense of relief in the Bulls' locker room after the game ended.
"I think we enjoyed it a lot," Mirotic said. "There's been a lot of times we didn't enjoy playing basketball, me either, and today it's one of those days we finally enjoy the game."