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Rose, Mirotic form dynamic duo for Bulls

NEW YORK -- Nikola Mirotic's teammates had a message for him Monday night.

After watching the rookie dominate the month of March and carry the Chicago Bulls at times offensively, they were getting frustrated while watching him pump fake his way through the past couple weeks.

"'Niko, don't think,'" Mirotic said, recounting the locker room message. "'Just shoot the ball because you're wide-open. Don't pump fake.' These guys, they're right. I just need to shoot because sometimes when I think, I miss the shots. When I don't think, I make it."

The message obviously took because Mirotic scored a team-high 26 points in a 113-86 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Just as important, Mirotic was 6-for-11 from beyond the arc -- he came into the game shooting 30.8 percent from long distance and was just 23-for-88 from 3-point range over his past 14 games. He is hopeful this game can propel his confidence going into the playoffs.

"The beauty of Niko is he's not afraid," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's been great throughout the season, and if he has a tough game he bounces right back in the next one. He's got a great scorer's mentality and his approach to the game is so good. He's only going to get better and better. And just him on the floor -- you put him on the floor, it creates space."

Speaking of creating space, Derrick Rose continued making his presence felt with 13 points and seven assists. If the former MVP can continue being aggressive going to the rim, it will open up even more of the floor. Four games into his latest return, Rose is playing with a tempo that is benefiting the Bulls at the right time.

"It's one of his strengths," Thibodeau said of Rose's ability to push the ball. "There's no one like him. He's got the power, quickness, speed -- it's very unusual. I don't know if anyone else is like him in the league. So what that does for your offense is it gets you easy scoring opportunities. He can force a defense to collapse, and when he's attacking the paint -- it doesn't necessarily have to be the rim, but it's the paint -- you're going to get good shots. And so I thought he did that."

The resurgence of Rose combined with Mirotic's offensive ability gives the Bulls a potentially potent offensive combination to lean on late in games. Pau Gasol's consistent offensive game and Jimmy Butler's ascension to an All-Star have been crucial to the Bulls' success -- but it's Rose's speed and Mirotic's shooting that give the Bulls the type of threat they haven't had in several years as they head into what they hope will be a long playoff run.

"With Niko on the floor, it's like another dimension," Rose said. "Because of the way he spaced the floor. I hate when he hesitates, hate when he hesitates, but I think he'll grow out of it."

Rose has been imploring the rookie big man to fire away when given the chance.

"Gotta shoot," Rose said. "Gotta shoot. That's the way the offense is. If you're open three times, if the game is telling you to shoot, we're not going to get mad. Shoot the ball."

If Mirotic and Rose can find a rhythm playing together, the Bulls become more dangerous than at any point in the Thibodeau era. Both players have proven they can carry this team offensively at certain times.

With Rose at the helm, Mirotic admitted he and his teammates have a different energy when they are on the floor.

"It's amazing," Mirotic said of Rose's presence on the floor. "Mentally, too."