Bulls

Bulls thrash Cavaliers as Rose misses third straight

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Bulls thrash Cavaliers as Rose misses third straight

CLEVELANDWhen pressed about Derrick Roses status the superstar point guard missed his third consecutive game with a left-toe injury Tom Thibodeau insisted, We have more than enough to win, during his pregame media availability.

He proved to be correct, as the Bulls (14-3) thrashed Cavaliers (6-8), 114-75, at Quicken Loans Arena, marking Clevelands most lopsided home defeat in the history of the organization.

The visitors jumped out to a 6-0 start and looked prepared to run the Cavaliers out of their own building in the early going, as a balanced Bulls offense Carlos Boozer (19 points, 14 rebounds), Luol Deng (21 points, eight rebounds) and Rip Hamilton (13 points) all were major factors appeared to overwhelm their inexperienced opponents.

However, paced by No. 1 overall draft pick Kyrie Irving (13 points) the rookie point guard proved adept at penetrating out of pick-and-rolls, shooting from deep range and finishing at the rim and the home teams longest-tenured player, active big man Anderson Varejao (14 points, seven rebounds), Cleveland quickly climbed back into the contest.

While Irvings high-scoring opening period certainly thrilled the fans at the Q and made the game a close-knit affair, his supporting cast allowed Chicago to obtain some breathing room as time waned on.

C.J. Watson (15 points, seven assists), again starting in place of Rose, blended scoring and playmaking to have a quietly effective frame running the show, while Joakim Noahs (eight points, 10 rebounds) energetic effort on the boards also contributed to the guests holding a 34-26 advantage after a quarter of play.

Interior defense provided by usual suspects Omer Asik and Taj Gibson, part of an effort that recorded a franchise-record and NBA season-high 16 blocked shots -- as well as instant offense from John Lucas III -- propelled the Bulls early in the second stanza, as they extended their lead to double digits.

The never-bashful Lucas kept the Bulls afloat through the midway point of the period, as the hot-shooting visitors maintained their comfortable winning margin over their hosts.

Said Boozer: We all knew we had to step it up without him Rose being out there.

To be honest, I was proud of our guys. It seemed like across the board, everybody did a great job. Our bench came out, played great tonight. The starters played great tonight. It was one of those nights when everything was clicking, he continued. Other than the All-Star Game and the Olympics, this is by far the deepest team Ive been on. Youve got guys who could be starting for other teams. Usually, most teams, they go to their bench and they feel a drop-off. We go to our bench and were even. Some games, they pick it up for us.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau gradually inserted regulars back into the game, but Cleveland responded, slashing its deficit via transition offense and Chicagos own offense getting out of rhythm.

Toward the end of the half, however, Hamilton took things into his own hands creating a dunk for Noah off a curl and a triple for Deng off a cross-court pass, before knocking down a pull-up jumper of his own on a fast break to again widen the gap and sending the Bulls into the intermission with a 63-44 lead.

Great scorer, great defender, makes great decisions when he gets the ball. Youve got to remember, hes played on championship teams and has been in this league for a long time, so theres not too much that he hasnt seen and he brings that experience to our ballclub. Shoot the ball when hes open, when he gets double-teamed, makes the right play, gushed Boozer about his teammate. Thats the key, though. Listen, you can always pass the ball out. He makes the right play every time. Theres a big difference from throwing it out and starting over, and hitting the man thats open.

Although the Bulls health woes didnt improve Gibson left the contest with a sprained left ankle and Lucas also departed after suffering a strained left groin they maintained their wide cushion, as Watson played distributor. Boozer, whose mid-range jumper and post-up game were both clicking, mainly handled the scoring duties.

I thought we did a great job of just coming out ready to play. Cleveland, theyre better than what their record says and I think theyre going to keep on getting better as the year goes on. We came out early and we were really locked in from the start. Even the third quarter, we finished the half well and came out in the third quarter, and kept that intensity on them, said Deng.

Were doing a great job of moving the ball. Were playing well together. C.J. was hurt, Rip was hurt, so having those guys out there and just playing with them, were doing a great job of just using everyone.

While Varejao remained effective for the Cavs, Noah and Boozer dominated the glass for the visitors.

With Irving cooled off since his explosive first quarter and veteran forward Antawn Jamison, in particular, struggling from the floor, Cleveland found it difficult to score against Chicagos stout defense. With the added bonus of Deng also chipping in with a typically steady performance, the Bulls took an 85-61 edge into the fourth quarter.

Carlos has been playing extremely well. Hes playing at a very high level, rebounding the ball well, scoring, making plays. Hes playing a complete game. His defense is very good. Joakim is playing with a lot of energy, C.J. is running the team great. Rip is Ripruns the floor, makes plays, plays defenseand then Luol, playing great defense. He provides a great intensity for your team. And then I thought our bench was terrific, said Thibodeau.

I think our wings are doing a really good job of running the floor and running through, and thats allowing Carlos to get some deep post-ups in transition before the defense is set. But Rip is great veteran leadership, very unselfish, plays to win and creates shots for everybody.

The game quickly turned into a laugher in the final period, as the gap between the teams continued to swell, Cavs fans began to boo the home team and Thibodeau inserted the likes of Bulls fan favorite Brian Scalabrine, rookie swingman Jimmy Butler and new acquisition Mike James, who recorded his first points as a Bull, into the lineup.

Sharpshooter Kyle Korver (14 points) carried the load in the extended garbage time, but it wasnt as if his efforts were absolutely vital, as the defeated hosts simply gave up on plays as the rout went on.

I loved the way we moved the ball to start the game. I thought our offense was terrific. Defensively, I didnt like our first quarter, but I thought we picked it up as we went along, Thibodeau concluded.

The turnovers, we got careless in the second half, so thats something weve got to clean up, but overall, I thought we had a lot of guys step up and play well.

It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

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It might not be so easy for the Bulls to tank down the stretch

And here you thought the Bulls wouldn't be competing for anything down the stretch. Yes, the Bulls will miss the postseason for a second consecutive season, and the post-Jimmy Butler rebuild is off and running with a Lottery selection (and potentially two) on the horizon.

And now the race for the top spot in the NBA Draft Lottery is on, with 23 to 27 games left in the regular season and a whopping seven teams within 1.5 games of each other for the worst record in the league. The Bulls are currently sitting 8th in the reverse standings at 20-37, 3.0 games behind the league-worst Suns and Hawks. And in what's largely considered a seven-man draft, Fred Hoiberg and the boys have some work to do to improve their chances of moving into the top-5 or top-3 of the draft.

Yes, the Bulls were sellers at the deadline, dealing leading scorer Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. And they lost eight of their last 10 games before the All-Star Break while promising extended minutes for players like Paul Zipser, Cristiano Felicio and even Cameron Payne. All those signs point to a franchise with a full and clear understanding that losses right now mean much bigger wins in June. But it's not as easy as it sounds. The Bulls aren't the only team looking to secure losses, and those other teams may have easier paths of doing so. Here's why.

For starters, not all these clumped-together records were built equally. Yes, the wins and losses all count the same at the end of the day, but if we're projecting how each team may finish the Bulls are certainly poised to play better than the teams around them. In fact, the Bulls are still playing .500 basketball (17-17) since their infamous 3-20 start. Unsurprisingly all seven teams ahead of the Bulls have worse records, as do the New York Knicks (11-24 since Dec. 8), who are just two games behind the Bulls, have lost eight straight and are without All-Star Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL). Remember, there are teams chasing the Bulls, too.

The Bulls have a seven-game win streak to their name and won 10 games in December; of the teams with worse records than the Bulls, only the Mavericks have a seven-win month this season.

And let's remember, too, the Bulls have gone 17-17 while missing Zach LaVine in 20 of those, Kris Dunn in 11 others and Lauri Markkanen in three. Those three are all healthy now (LaVine likely won't play in back-to-backs, but the Bulls have just three of those sets left) and while they have an ugly -18.8 net rating in four games, the Bulls are 2-2 with all three on the floor and have losses against the top-seeded Raptors and defending champion Warriors. It's safe to assume Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen will all benefit and improve from playing with one another. And while Nikola Mirotic was a large part of the Bulls' success (they went 14-11 with him in the lineup), the trade has opened up more minutes for Bobby Portis, who's quietly averaging 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds since the Mirotic trade. No, Portis isn't Mirotic, but the dropoff isn't all that significant, especially when considering the defensive end.

What's this all mean? That the Bulls have the best top-end talent of any team in these tank standings, and arguably the most talented overall roster. It sounds laughable, but we're not comparing them to the Rockets and Celtics. Perhaps Orlando's core of Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic (when healthy) comes close, but the Magic also just sold their starting point guard Elfrid Payton for pennies on the dollar. They're clearly in tank mode, and the rest of that roster is a nightmare. Dallas has some nice pieces, but also plenty of shutdown candidates as the season nears its end.

And that's another angle to this. The Bulls really don't have any players who may rest late in the season. Then again, phantom injuries could arise and LaVine might sit down the stretch for precautionary purposes. But Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, the team's elder statesmen at 29 and 28, respectively, aren't exactly tipping the scale between wins and losses. As long as LaVine, Dunn, Markkanen, Portis and Denzel Valentine are seeing 28+ minutes, the Bulls are going to be in good position. Teams like Atlanta and Sacramento are already resting veterans, and Memphis could do the same with Marc Gasol if the Lottery balls depend on it. It's a good thing the Bulls don't have this luxury, as they're leaning on their young talent, but it also means the team isn't going to get much worse.

The biggest hurdle for the Bulls, however, is going to be their remaining schedule. Marvin Bagley fans might want to stop reading. Only four teams in the NBA will face an easier remaining schedule than the Bulls, and none are ahead of them in the race for the top pick. The 76ers, Hornets, Warriors and Heat have easier schedules, and then it's the Bulls, with a remaining SOS of .474. Here's how that compares to the seven teams the Bulls are looking up at in the tank standings:

So the Bulls have an easier schedule than any team in front of them, and the Knicks. And looking at the Bulls' remaining schedule (far right column), it's clear that the three games against the Nets (which includes what should be a fun home-and-home in the season's final week) and two games against the Grizzlies will loom large. It also wouldn't surprise anyone if the Bulls picked up random victories over teams like Boston (March 5), Cleveland (March 17), Milwaukee (March 23) or Houston (March 27). They have a way of playing up to their opponents (see: Minnesota).

When it comes to discussing the league's worst teams, the Bulls might simply be too good. And their schedule might simply be too bad. That's certainly a good problem to have when considering the franchise's rebuild has gone quicker than most expected, even if it means fewer chances to secure a top-3 pick. Then again, the Bulls did fine selecting 7th overall last season in grabbing Markkanen, so perhaps a top-5 pick isn't necessary. It might not even be an option.

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

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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.