Bulls

Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?

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Bulls blessed with favorable schedule?

After some time to digest the Bulls' daunting 2011-12 regular-season schedule, it would be a reach to call it favorable -- that can't be said of any NBA team -- but while the 66-game slate will be rough on everybody, Chicago is better equipped than most to handle it. Some of that has to do with the team's actual talent, youth, depth and cohesiveness from their 62-win regular season a year ago, but how the games play out also gives the Bulls an advantage.

First of all, a look back at their success on the road last season and dominant mark at the United Center has to be taken into consideration for a team that brings back a mostly intact roster. But while the Bulls have a league-high (along with the Spurs) nine-game road swing -- remember the success of their November circus trip, the first time they had a winning record on the annual occurrence since the Jordan era? -- they're also one of the few squads that's only required to play one back-to-back-to-back (against the Pistons in Chicago, at Minnesota and back to the United Center to host the Wizards; certainly not the toughest trio of NBA teams) this season.

Speaking of that nine-game trip, which begins Jan. 29, while it starts off with the first of four matchups with the Heat, it's hardly a murderer's row of opponents, as only the Knicks and Celtics can be regarded as marquee foes. Not to say the Bulls -- especially not head coach Tom Thibodeau, who swears to reporters a last-place team heading into the last contest of the season is the biggest test his players have faced all year -- will take anybody lightly, but outside of a tough five-game stretch in March against five 2011 playoff teams (four of which are at the United Center) and a difficult month of April, they don't have many consecutive games against the league's upper-echelon teams.

For example, from the season opener until the All-Star break, the Bulls only play consecutive games against teams that participated in the previous postseason three times in 35 games; only 15 of 35 games are against 2011 playoff teams. Now, the Bulls' second-half slate does get tougher and even teams that made the playoffs last year will inevitably make player transactions, for better or worse between Friday's start to free agency and the February trade deadline, but the aforementioned factors an already-formidable squad going for itself bode well for Chicago.

Conditioning, motivation and preparation aren't the cause of severe fretting for the Bulls (at least compared to many other teams), but one area that can't be controlled, health, is something that can be mitigated by the team's depth at every position, with the exception of point guard -- no disrespect to C.J. Watson, but while Taj Gibson and Omer Asik can, at minimum, approximate the production of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, it's tough to make up for the absence of the league's MVP, although Watson did pour in 39 points, albeit in a loss, in Derrick Rose's lone DNP of last season. That said, getting off to a quick start, something their chemistry suggests in possible, will be significant to the Bulls' regular-season success, and while the excessive travel and amount of games packed into short spans will ultimately take a toll, it appears the fates (or league office) were favorable to the Bulls, who have a couple of relatively long homestands and mercifully, multiple off days between games toward the back end to balance out some of their cross-country excursions.

Take a look at the schedule, study it based on the teams the Bulls play and not the actual calendar, and come to your own conclusion.

One thing's for sure: They won't win as many games as last season.

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

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USA TODAY

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

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USA TODAY

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.