Bulls in foreign territory needing to fight for playoff spot


Bulls in foreign territory needing to fight for playoff spot

By Philip Rossman-Reich

ORLANDO, Fla. — Derrick Rose has never really been in this situation before.

During his sometimes stellar, sometimes frustrating eight-year career with the Bulls, Rose has never had a season where his team missed the playoffs. In every year he has finished the season, Rose has played in the playoffs.

It is an odd place then for Rose to sit in front of his locker before and after a game in early March and see his team staring up at the playoffs. With the Bulls' twin losses in Florida, the team now sits a half game behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Yet, after a 102-89 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at the Amway Center, the Bulls feel a little emptier. This Bulls team has problems that are completely foreign to a franchise that has made the playoffs for seven straight years and 10 of the last 11.

“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Rose said. “I can’t. It’s the first time I’ve ever gone through this. All this is new to me. Just trying to figure things out. Thoughts, plays, everything is going everywhere. But we’ve got to figure it out.”

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In the final 22 games, the Bulls will have every opportunity to make their case and make up that ground.

Jimmy Butler will return from his injury, as will Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. Whether that will be enough to straighten out a defense that went from elite to frustrating within a season is the question. Even so, it is not like the Bulls are losing too much ground either.

Right now, though, teams know the Bulls are struggling, and they are looking to pounce from the tip and burying them.

“Pride is always on the line every night you go out there 82 games a year,” Mike Dunleavy said. “Whether you are up 20 or down 20, your pride should always be on the line. This is a pretty solid group of guys. We’ll get this thing figured out. I’m pretty confident of that.”

After losing two games on this Florida road trip by double digits, it is easy to sense the frustration. Everyone is reacting to this reality in their own way.

How they respond will ultimately decide whether they make the playoffs or not.

“Even to be behind from the beginning of the year, before we even started our goals and everything: Are we trying to get into the playoffs?” Rose said. “We have to ask these questions. We just have to come out here and play. Our actions should be everything.”

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

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


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. An update from Shams Charania of The Vertical said Butler could return for the postseason.

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.