Bulls

Hoiberg 'not going to sugarcoat' Bulls' loss to Knicks

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Hoiberg 'not going to sugarcoat' Bulls' loss to Knicks

The Bulls' playoff chances took a substantial hit for the second straight night.

Playing the latter end of a home-and-home with the lottery-bound New York Knicks, the Bulls suffered their second straight loss, 106-94, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. It came on the heels of Wednesday's surprising home loss to those same Knicks, now 30-43, that has dropped Fred Hoiberg's group 1.5 games behind the idle Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 seed in the East.

Derrick Rose continued his stellar play with 30 points and three assists, while Jimmy Butler added 19 points and three steals. But for the Bulls, playing without Pau Gasol, a sluggish start and another lack of defensive energy doomed them against a team in which they should have handled.

Instead, the Knicks raced out to a nine-point lead, shot better than 51 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Bulls, 45-34. Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points on 9-for-17 shooting and rookie Kristaps Porzingis again torched the Bulls for 19 points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks, ranked 23rd in offensive efficiency, hadn't scored 100 or more points in consecutive games since March 5.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's two extremely tough losses. And for me, looking at the winning streak we had when we won three and won four out of five, we came out with a defensive mindset in the first quarter and we set the tone. And the last two nights that hasn't happened."

[BULLS PGL: Clear lack of leadership in Bulls' locker room]

The Knicks came out firing, hitting 58 percent and connecting on five 3-pointers to take a four-point first quarter lead. Anthony scored 10 of his points in the opening stanza while Porzingis, who torched the Bulls for 29 points on Wednesday, added five. The Bulls managed to keep New York at bay in the second quarter but couldn't capitalize, shooting just 30 percent while missing nine of their 10 3-point attempts in the quarter.

The offense was stagnant, minus Rose, most of the night without their facilitator in Gasol. The 7-footer missed the game with swelling in the right knee that caused him to miss four games earlier in the month. Hoiberg said before the game he doesn't expect Gasol to miss any more games, but his absence was noticeable.

The Bulls were forced to start little-used Cristiano Felicio, who grabbed just a single rebound in 21 ineffective minutes. The Bulls had just 15 assists on their 37 made field goals, as Rose was forced to go into attack mode early with the Bulls trailing; Rose's three assists were his fewest since March 1.

The lack of ball movement compounded when the lack of defensive pressure reared its head in the second half. New York outscored the Bulls in the third quarter for a second straight night, and the Knicks capped off their offensive outburst when point guard Jose Calderon threw an alley-oop from the opposite free throw line to Derrick Williams for a two-handed slam. The Bulls' lone glimmer of hope was when they cut the deficit to 11 with a little more than four minutes remaining.

But out of a timeout, Calderon and Anthony his consecutive 3-pointers that pushed the lead back out to 17 and end any hope of a Bulls' comeback.

[WATCH: The story behind the Bulls' iconic player introductions]

The Bulls finished their last real easy portion of the season - in which they played six straight games against teams with sub-.500 records - with a disappointing 3-3 record. They'll now play six of their next eight on the road, with six of those games coming against teams currently in the playoff picture.

"The big thing is to keep swinging. We've got a lot of basketball left to be played. And you can't walk out of here with your head down and feel sorry for yourself or it's going to compound these last 11 games," Hoiberg said. "You've got to come out together. I told them to look in the mirror, what they can do to help this team find its way out of this two-game tough stretch that we've had and bring it the rest of the season.

"That's all we can do right now is control what we have in front of us."

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

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USA TODAY

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

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AP

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.”