Bulls drubbed by Sixers in lackluster effort


Bulls drubbed by Sixers in lackluster effort

PHILADELPHIAEvery once in a while, no matter how driven or talented, an NBA team throws up a clunker of a game, whether its because of fatigue, lack of intensity or simply a bad matchup. With a day off Tuesday, the Bulls (18-6) cant blame being tired for their effort Wednesday night, a 98-82 drubbing at the hands of the 76ers (16-6) that was far worse than the final result indicated.

Although the Bulls came out the gates shooting at a torrid rate, their efficiency was matched by the Sixers energy. In a battle of two unselfish teams, the mid-range shooting of Kyle Korver, Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer set the tone.

Meanwhile, Derrick Rose (18 points, six assists) was his usual, attacking self, but his explosiveness was countered by the overall athleticism of the home team, led by versatile swingman Andre Iguodala (19 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and veteran power forward Elton Brand, as well as contributions from the likes of overlooked starter Jodie Meeks, sixth man Lou Williams (14 points, six assists), second-year wing Evan Turner and backup power forward Lavoy Allen (15 points, six rebounds), a second-round pick and hometown product.

With their pressure defense forcing turnovers and getting them into the open courtsomething Bulls head coach cautioned about, both before the teams morning shootaround and in his pregame media availabilitythe hosts led Chicago, 27-21, after the fast-paced opening period.

Theyre a good defensive team, making it hard, being scrappy. Theyve got a lot of athletic people on their team. Theyre a good team, said Rose. Theyve got a lot of athletic people on their team, especially their wings. Andre Iguodala came out and played great for them tonight, just playing aggressive and everybody else fed off of him.

We know that were a good team. We know that all of us are in condition. It was just one of those games. The starters didnt come out and play the way that we know how to play, he continued. Their defense was great, creating turnovers, playing the passing lanes pretty good, rebounding the ball. Thats something that they did do great tonight, tipping the ball back out and the guards couldnt get to it tonight, and that hurt the team.

Philadelphia was able to maintain its lead over the Bulls with its ability to push the pace and terrifically balanced scoring, with young floor general Jrue Holiday (17 points, five assists) running the show, the surprising Allen continuing his strong play and timely buckets from every Sixer who saw action.

The visitors undoing were their turnoversThibodeau inserted C.J. Watson (20 points, four assists), who attempted to give the Bulls a boost with his offensive aggressiveness, into the backcourt with Rose to counter Philadelphias speedand sharply plummeting shooting percentage, as the defensive-oriented home team started to put the clamps down.

We were out there sluggish. The energy wasnt there. I really cant explain it, Rose explained. We played a messed-up game, where we rubbed off on everyone else. It was definitely the starters, but when we came out, they got a big lead and we had to fight back, and they held us back pretty good, where they kept it on us and thats what youre supposed to do. But this is something were not going to forgetI know Im notand just tried to play hard next time.

Dynamic reserve forward Thaddeus Youngs (19 points, eight rebounds) energetic play was another boon for the home team, as his versatility and athleticism gave the Bulls fits. But as expected when the Bulls offense struggles, Rose went into takeover mode, almost exclusively driving to the rim for tough finishes to get the Bulls back into striking distance after the Sixers flirted with a double-digit advantage, cutting the deficit to 49-44, in favor of Philadelphia, at halftime.

After the intermission, the Sixers relentlessness persisted and propelled by Iguodalas assertivenessin addition to throwing down a vicious dunk over former teammate Korver, he knocked down a triple, not exactly the strength of his game, then, after a steal, completed a fake pass, behind-the-back dribble maneuver before dishing to Holiday for a pull-up jumper on the breakthe deficit grew to double digits. Philadelphia had all the momentum and with no Bulls other than Rose able to get much going offensively, things looked bleak.

Thibodeau tried different lineupshaving received little from the big-man duo of Boozer and Joakim Noah, as well as fellow starter Ronnie Brewer, he again went to the small backcourt of Watson and Rose, along with the defensive-oriented tandem of Taj Gibson and Omer Asikbut nothing changed. The backcourt scoring of Holiday and Williams, as well as solid play from the reserve frontcourt of Allen and Young, buoyed the Sixers, whose fans were appreciative, as they took a 75-55 advantage into the final stanza.

You cant do that. their speed and quickness, if you turn the ball over, puts them in the open floor. Live ball, very hard to stop. Twenty-nine points off our turnovers, you cant make that up. Very, very difficult, said Thibodeau, whose squad surrendered the basketball 17 times on the evening, but refused to blame the loss on missing injured starters Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton.

Were a deep team and its one thing if youre playing defense, and youre rebounding, youre taking care of the ball and you miss shots. Thats one thing, but when youre turning the ball over, youre beating yourself, so thats something that we have to correct and that was the story of the game, basically. They turned us over. They got easy points off of it.

Chimed in Rose: Im not trying to think that way, knowing that we do miss them, but theres no excuses. Weve still got to go out there and play these games, and put forth the effort, and tonight, its clear that we didnt.

Chicago, with a modified Bench Mob on the floorKorver, a temporary starter, joined Asik, Gibson, Watson and rookie swingman Jimmy Butlertried to push the tempo, but were combated by their run-and-gun counterparts doing the same thing, and better. Thibodeau seemed to be waving the white flag early, as he substituted deep reserve Brian Scalabrine into the game for Asik relatively early in the period, with Rose, Noah and Boozer all sitting on the bench.

Their defense was great. We were loose with the ball and you cant be. Theyve got great hands, theyre quick and youve got to make simple plays, simple passes. The balls got to move. We sort of got in a hole in the second quarter. We closed the half out OK, got ourselves back in it and then, the start of the third quarter, they played really hard. I give them a lot of credit. Our defense wasnt good and I thought our reaction to the balltheyre quick to the balland I thought our reaction to the ball was very poor, and they beat us to loose balls, the second-effort plays and then, the fourth quarter, we were scrambling and trying to get back into it, but the hole was too big, observed Thibodeau.

Our starters were so lethargic in the third, quite honestly, if we had gotten closer, I was going to finish with them, with the group that we had in there, because they were fighting to get us out of the hole.

Added Rose: When we got kind of close, then turned the ball over a little bit, I kind of knew that I was going to be out for the rest of the night.

While Gibson was effective on the interior in his trademark blue-collar fashion and Watson continued to drive to the basket, for all intents and purposes, it appeared to be a losing proposition. However, the hustle displayed by the reserve unit (by the games stretch run, third-string point guard John Lucas III was in for Korver) significantly trimmed the deficit, actually giving the Sixers first-line players a run for their money before finally putting them to bed.

This is something that were going to learn from, said Rose. We play tomorrow. Thats the good thing about this.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend


Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”