Bulls

Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose put on a show in Bulls win over Bucks

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Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose put on a show in Bulls win over Bucks

In a game that was tailor-made for the fast-breaking era of the 80’s, the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks reacquainted themselves for the first time since last spring’s physical, hotly-contested six-game playoff series.

But while that series was at times a defensive struggle, Tuesday’s contest was not as both put on an offensive show in a game where the first team to put together any semblance of defensive stops would likely win.

The Bulls played enough defense in the fourth, although the offense carried the day to a 117-106 win at the United Center, their fifth straight victory as they held the Bucks to 15 points in the fourth. They spoiled hometown kid Jabari Parker’s first official game at the United Center, as he scored 11 with seven rebounds.

It was Fred Hoiberg’s offense on paper come to life, in all forms.

They tallied 27 assists, shot 55 percent from the field and made all 20 of their free-throws.

[MORE: Fred Hoiberg reflects on Jimmy Butler's 'special' performance]

Proof positive that his system can work when adjustments are made and an elite-level point guard is running the show.

“We’re playing unselfish basketball. The ball is going side to side which is very important,” Hoiberg said.

Jimmy Butler, coming off his record-breaking 40-point second half, did it all on the offensive end with 32 points and a career-high 10 assists, matching wits with Khris Middleton, who hit five triples to keep the Bucks in it, scoring 26 points with seven assists and four rebounds.

“Jimmy has been playing with a lot of patience,” Derrick Rose said.

The Bulls didn’t trail through three quarters, even jumping out to a 10-0 lead behind Taj Gibson feasting inside against a toothless interior defense. Rose made his return after a three-game absence and found life easier than expected as his first step was more than enough to find himself in open real estate.

If there was any evidence of rust, it could only be found in his 3-point shooting because everything else was at an elite level, Bucks defense notwithstanding. He attacked at every opening, as his next-level speed opened things up across the board, even when he didn’t get the assist credit on the stat sheet.

He finished with 16 points and six assists but his affect was greater than can be measured statistically.

“When he gives us that initial push, we run with it,” Hoiberg said. “At times he can be a one-man fast break. And the big thing is he needs to continue to attack the basket.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Rose and Butler traded pretty reverse layups, as the lane was open without much resistance for most of the evening.

Butler added 20 in the first half to his 40 in the second half at Toronto, and his teammates joined him this go-round. Everyone who participated got good looks and the Bulls shot 55 percent, scoring over 100 for their eighth straight time.

“I was a little disappointed with Jimmy coming out the gate and only going for 20,” said Hoiberg, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “He’s making the right decisions out there and playing the right way.”

Pau Gasol even hit a couple triples on his way to 26 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. All five starters scored in double figures, including Nikola Mirotic’s 14 with six rebounds.

If there was any downside to such an exciting win, giving up in excess of 100 points for another game shows some slippage that must be corralled. Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams scored 20 with 12 assists and center Greg Monroe scored a quick eight to start the second quarter to bring the Bucks within striking distance, a place they stayed until midway through the fourth when the Bulls finally pulled away.

But those gripes are minor compared to other serious questions that have been asked over the last few weeks, as the start of the New Year has birthed some sincere optimism about this team getting itself right.

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.”