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Hoiberg Likes What He Sees From Gasol-Mirotic, Noah-Gibson Pairings

By Cody Westerlund--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In what may be a sign of what's to come, the Bulls started Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic in Tuesday's exhibition win against the Pacers, while Joakim Noah came off the bench for the first time in seven preseason games in which all the big men were healthy.

At no point in his team's 103-94 win did Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg play Gasol and Noah -- two natural centers -- together. The two were starters for the Bulls last season, to varying degrees of success and consistency.

Gasol and Mirotic, a stretch-four, shared the floor for long stretches Tuesday, including nearly 14 minutes straight spanning the second and third quarters.

The Noah-Taj Gibson pairing was prevalent as well, and Hoiberg relayed a telling belief afterward: He liked how both pairs played together.

"They do have good chemistry," Hoiberg said of Gasol and Mirotic playing together. "Some of that, I think, was built this summer, when those guys were playing together and starting together for Spain (in EuroBasket). Pau can tell him what to do in Spanish, and he'll do it.

"Those two do play well together. I thought Taj and Jo played well together."

The Noah-Mirotic and Gasol-Gibson pairings also saw time together. Rookie forward Bobby Portis didn't play, with Hoiberg saying, "It's just the way we decided to go."

Hoiberg insists he hasn't settled on a starting lineup for next Tuesday's season opener against the Cavaliers, but it's well-known he favors floor spacing, which Mirotic brings. Hoiberg's vision was executed well Tuesday, as Mirotic had 15 points and shot 4-of-6 from 3-point range, including hitting three treys in a first quarter in which he scored 11 points.

The concern with the Gasol-Mirotic pairing comes in its defensive liability. To that end, Hoiberg made several points in support of quelling that worry.

He's confident in the perimeter defense when Tony Snell and Jimmy Butler are on the floor together -- and on Tuesday, with Kirk Hinrich starting too as Derrick Rose (eye) continued to sit out. Hoiberg called Gasol "a pretty good rim protector," and if the Bulls have their way, he won't have to chase many pick-and-rolls.

Hoiberg also believes Mirotic's defense has been "solid."

"When he's got a little bit bigger guy that he's guarding, he does a good job fronting," Hoiberg said of Mirotic. "He's moved his feet well for the most part when he's guarding a good perimeter guy."

By no means has Hoiberg ruled out playing Gasol and Noah together. He considered closing with those two in Tuesday's win, before deciding he wanted Mirotic to get the crunch-time minutes because he'd sat down the stretch Monday night.

And in a promising sign after he was severely hampered by a knee injury in 2014-'15, Noah played well and looked spry on both ends of a back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday. So Hoiberg continues to have much to weigh.

This point appears to remain, though: To start the season, there will be plenty of time for the Gasol-Mirotic and Noah-Gibson pairings.

For his part, Gasol would be content with sharing big minutes with Mirotic, with whom he teamed to lead Spain to a EuroBasket championship this offseason.

"Comfort level? I'd say pretty big," Gasol said of his time with Mirotic. "We built on it during the summer. He's a player that spreads the floor, knows how to play the game. He's a threat from outside, so it allows me to have room to operate from the post. We understand each other well, so we have a good chemistry, a good connection."

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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