Bulls

Bulls: Jimmy Butler will see Dr. James Andrews about left knee

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Bulls: Jimmy Butler will see Dr. James Andrews about left knee

The triumphant return of Jimmy Butler hit a snag the size of Alabama.

Butler, perhaps unsatisfied with what he’s been told compared to what he feels in his recovering left knee, is taking a trip to see famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Dr. Andrews has treated athletes across all mediums, generally regarded as the best in the country.

Butler missed 11 games with what’s been termed a left knee strain, returned for one game Saturday night and then sat out Monday’s game with knee soreness. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg sounded somewhat optimistic about Butler’s chances to return Thursday in San Antonio, but he won’t play and his return is in doubt.

“He’s going to go down and see Dr. Andrews down in Alabama today, just to get a second opinion on the knee,” Hoiberg said. “So tomorrow he won’t play. We’ll hopefully get some news tomorrow and then confer with everybody and get a plan together.’’

Butler played 34 minutes in his return game and looked like himself, but apparently even after the knee swelling went down he still doesn’t feel completely comfortable with his body to this point.

At an event for hunger awareness Wednesday morning at Chicago’s Lakefront Athletic Club, Butler said he wanted to play Thursday but also hinted at his future plans before they were revealed.

“I want to play as many minutes as I can but I don't think my body will let me do it right now, and that's the toughest part,” Butler said. “I pride myself on being tough and taking the challenge against James (Harden), against Kawhi (Leonard), whoever it may be. I want to play. I've got a lot of made up time to make up. I've been out since Feb. 5, so I've got to get my body back from Feb. 5 and get ready for these playoffs.”

With 20 games left and the Bulls hanging on by a thread to the final playoff spot, Butler’s importance to the season is of large significance—but being in the first year of a five-year maximum contract he signed last summer, the future should be just as important, too.

“You can call it what you want,” Butler said. “I don't think I'm here to be smart. I think I'm here to play basketball, I'm here to help my team win, I'm here to represent Chicago the best way I can. I want to play basketball.”

[RELATED: Hoiberg encouraged by Bulls' ending 100-points-allowed streak]

Butler initially hurt his knee bumping knees in Salt Lake City on their west coast trip, sat out a game in Sacramento only to return the next game in Denver. It was against the Nuggets where his left knee appeared to give out on a late second-quarter drive and had many wondering if it was more than a knee strain.

“I cannot stand not playing but I don't want to start back over like I did Feb. 5 and make it worse,” Butler said. “Yeah, there was a little swelling and little aches and pains, but hopefully I'm good to go, because I want to play. I don't want to have to play a game here, sit out, sit out, play, sit out, sit out. No, I want to play.”

Hoiberg said it was Butler’s decision to see Dr. Andrews, perhaps an indication of the difference of opinion in what the team thinks and how Butler feels, pain-wise.

“Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea to go down there and just get an opinion from one of the top doctors in the world,” Hoiberg said. “The swelling has gone down. The swelling is pretty much gone now. He’s just got a little bit of pain on the back of that knee and we just want to be safe with it.’’

For the ultra-competitive and hyper-aware Butler to miss a nationally-televised matchup with perhaps his biggest peer in terms of being the best two-way player in basketball, Kawhi Leonard, it means Butler is likely taking this very seriously.

Hoiberg has come under some whispers that perhaps he played Butler too long in his first game back Saturday night, when he played 21 in the first half and finished with 34 minutes before fouling out.
But he defended the plan laid out to him by doctors about Butler’s treatment

“Jimmy had two really good weeks going 100 percent on that leg,” Butler said. “Had a really good practice the day before [the game with Houston]. Got him out in a game situation, felt great during the game.

“We monitored him throughout that game on how he was feeling. He actually felt good the next morning. Participated in practice. And then it swelled up on him. So as far as the plan the first time around, as far as going hard for two weeks, that was the plan that was put in place.”

And as the plan is taking a turn south—the Bulls had better hope it’s more geographically than literally, with their season on the line.

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen battling the rookie wall

MINNEAPOLIS — The misses have come wide, long and short for Lauri Markkanen in the last couple games, perhaps a sign he’s hit the popular but unseen “Rookie Wall.”

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Markkanen has hit the same amount of jump shots as a dead man, only scoring with two dunks and missing all seven 3-point attempts.

He’s hit the point of the season where the legs turn to spaghetti as the grind of the season catches up. Last year at Arizona, he played 37 games and then went through Summer League following the draft before playing for the Finland national team. The Bulls have been careful with his minutes, particularly early on in the season when they didn’t have the depth at power forward, but Markkanen is still adjusting to the rigors of the NBA.

After seemingly peaking in January, averaging 17 points and 8.4 rebounds on 48 percent shooting and 43 from three-point range, he’s averaged just 10.8 points on 37 percent shooting and hitting just four of 27 from deep.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg tried to pump Markkanen up recently, comparing his shooting to a golfer who’s lost his stroke. Unfortunately, it didn’t translate to Markkanen, who looked at his coach as if he grew a third eye.

By the time Hoiberg compared it to curling, he wound up confusing the press corps last week.

And yet, Markkanen hasn’t broken out of his slump. It’s been quite a while since Markkanen’s devastating performance on Broadway where he nailed eight 3-pointers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10 for a career-high 33 points.

“It’s been a long season, I’m not denying that,” Markkanen said Saturday night following the Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves. “I just gotta work through it. At times I feel it. I felt good today. As the game went on, a little tired.”

Consistency has been a hallmark of Markkanen’s season to date. He scored in double figures 21 straight games before the last two, where he scored three points in the last two Bulls losses.

As a whole, he’s only scored fewer than 10 points six times. To compare, rookie of the year frontrunners Donovan Mitchell (nine) and Ben Simmons (six) are right around the same number.

Hoiberg boldly predicts Markkanen will burst out in a big way soon, but the rookie wall takes no prisoners, especially in the dog days of the season.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

His looks have been relatively clean, although one can’t discount the difference between playing alongside Cristiano Felicio compared to Robin Lopez. Lopez assisted on 39 field goals, tied with Jerian Grant for second-highest feeds behind Kris Dunn.

Both Lopez and Grant are out of the rotation, while Dunn is still getting his legs back after missing nearly a month in concussion protocol. Lopez was used in a lot of dribble handoff offense with Markkanen, while also setting solid screens to free him.

Felicio doesn’t have that level of experience in this offense, and the Bulls are also running more through Zach LaVine as a primary ballhandler.

“He’s had a lot of really good games. It’s never gonna be an 100 percent season,” LaVine said. “It’s so many games you’ll eventually run into some slumps so I just think he needs to get into a rhythm. We’ve gotta help him with that too. Help him find easier shots on the floor. He’s cool, he’s good. We tell him to shoot the ball every time.”

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”