Bulls

Jimmy Butler's triple-double leads Bulls past Sixers: 'We don't care how we do it'

Jimmy Butler's triple-double leads Bulls past Sixers: 'We don't care how we do it'

PHILADELPHIA—Survive and advance.

That's the mantra—or at least it should be for the Chicago Bulls as they trudge through the last road trip of the season, trying to wipe the bad taste from their mouths after an ugly loss to the woeful New York Knicks Tuesday night.

And as the equally-dreadful Philadelphia 76ers gave the Bulls another chance for them not to play down to their level of competition, the Bulls emerged with a ugly 102-90 win at Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia Thursday night.

The win keeps pace with Miami and Indiana at the seventh spot in the East with three games remaining.

"That's it man," said Jimmy Butler, who put up his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. "We don't care how we do it, how many points we score, how many stops we get. Whenever you win, that's all you want this time of year."

Butler had to take additional playmaking duties with Rajon Rondo sidelined with a wrist injury, but needed help from his one-night wingman, Nikola Mirotic, to secure the Westbrookian feat.

With nine assists, Butler didn't deny the statistical accomplishment was in his mind with the game essentially in hand.

"I definitely (knew)," Butler said. "Niko said, you need one more?"

Butler replied, then Mirotic issued the directive that displayed the confidence of a new man this time of year.

"Okay then throw it to me. You throw it to me, I'll shoot it," Mirotic told Butler.

Catch, fire, swish.

Mirotic had his best game since the calendar turned to April with 22 points and seven rebounds, as the triple with less than three minutes left to give the Bulls a 15-point lead, essentially ending any thought of a 76ers threat.

"My shot is feeling great right now. Even though I take tough shots, deep shots, I feel like I'm gonna make them," Mirotic said. "When you make a shot, it's time to shoot. When you don't, try to find a way to make a play. It's going good so far and that's all that matters."

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The 76ers shot 21 percent from the 3-point line and considering they had very little to lose, being in the lottery and playing out the string, hoisted up 33 attempts, refusing to alter their approach when it was clear nobody had a shot going.

The Bulls held rookie Dario Saric to nine points on three of eight shooting in 22 minutes, a stark contrast to his 32-point, 10-rebound showing that he'll use on his Rookie of the Year highlight tape for the media voting on the award.

Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot led the 76ers with 18 points and Justin Anderson scored 17 for the 76ers, a team that beat the Bulls soundly at the United Center a short time ago.

But the two leading scorers combined to go 12 for 26 and three for 12 from the 3-point line, hardly a model of efficiency.

It contributed to shooting 35 percent on the night, but they stayed in the game with pesky play, forcing 16 Bulls turnovers and routinely getting to loose balls quicker than the team that apparently has something to play for.

Holding a 40-26 lead, the 76ers crept back in to slice it in half before the half, and when the Bulls restored order at 68-52 midway through the third, the 76ers cut it to single-digits three times but did little more than hang around.

"When you get that lead and go up 16, I'd love one night to push that thing up to 25 and rest some guys a little bit," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We can't be satisfied, we gotta go into Brooklyn with the mindset that we have to battle."

Jerian Grant gave the coaching staff something to think about after getting his first taste of significant playing time since being benched for Rondo last month. 

Bashful he was not, scoring from the perimeter and being aggressive on drives to the basket—playing with a sense of freedom that belies the fact he doesn't know what will happen to his role when Rondo returns, scoring 15 points in 31 minutes.

"I thought he had some aggressive takes to the basket," Hoiberg said. "For being in and out the rotation, he's only gotten a little time to get out there and play. To step in for a guy and fill those shoes isn't easy. I thought Jerian played very solid tonight."

Aesthetically pleasing it was not, per custom with the Bulls. Whether the implementation of their 21st starting lineup in 79 games or the 76ers having a roster full of players not usually associated with NBA basketball, they certainly didn't seem the least bit aroused.

There were stretches where the Bulls looked serious about things but the malaise and sloppiness was far more common. Taking a double-digit lead meant giving it right back in a quick manner to make the 76ers feel like they were at home and belonged on the floor with the Bulls.

But they could only masquerade but for so long, as the Bulls pulled away and stayed away, looking ahead to their last road game of the regular season.

On to Brooklyn.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

In ugly home opener, Lauri Markkanen gives a glimmer of hope

Keeping the game simple is often a tough task for rookies entering the NBA, but it seems Lauri Markkanen has been a quick learner in that aspect.

Through two games he’s probably the lone bright spot, especially after the Bulls’ cringe-inducing 87-77 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in their home opener at the United Center.

Jumper not falling? Okay, go to the basket.

“It wasn’t falling so I tried to get to the rim a couple times,” Markkanen said. “At the end, I was like let’s do it and I connected on a 3-pointer, I felt more open just because I was at the rim. I think that helped.”

He was asked what the difference was in the second game of his career compared to the first.

“I mean the crowd was chanting for us (tonight),” Markkanen said, referring to Thursday in Toronto.

He wasn’t attempting to display any dry wit but applying common sense seems to work for him, even though he’s been thrust into a situation after an incident that doesn’t make any sense.

With Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic out for the foreseeable future, playing a game-high 37 minutes will be more common than anomaly.

“Whatever your minutes are, you gotta play them to the best of your ability,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s being allowed to play through some mistakes right now. He’s gonna play heavy minutes every night.”

He only shot five of 14 but achieved his first double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds after a 17-point, eight-rebound debut against the Raptors Thursday.

No, someone didn’t open a door for a draft to come into the United Center on that three-pointer that went wide left, but it didn’t stop him from being assertive and continuing to look for his shot.

There was plenty of muck, easy to see on the stat sheet. The 38 percent shooting overall, the lack of penetration, the 29 percent shooting from 3-point range and 20 turnovers.

It’s not hard to imagine what Markkanen will look like with competent and effective NBA players around him, along with a true facilitating point guard that will find him in this offense.

“Markkanen is a wonderful player,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s aggressive, he’s smart and obviously, he can shoot the ball. He’s just going to get better and better as he figures things out.”

He received a crash course, facing the likes of Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay Saturday night. On one instance, Gay drove baseline and made Markkanen buckle with a 3-point play.

Aldridge had 24 shots in 32 minutes as a new focal point with Kawhi Leonard out with injury.

So he’s not getting treated with kid gloves, nor is he backing down from the assignments.

“He didn’t shoot the ball well but he battled,” Hoiberg said. “He had a tough assignment with Pau, who’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame one day. Good experience. He guarded Aldridge, Rudy Gay some. He battled, he fought them.”

Even with the airball, had the moment that gives the Bulls fans hope, when he drove on Gasol, spun and hooked a lefty layup while being fouled by the veteran in the first half—giving the United Center faithful something to have faith in for a moment.

“Sometimes you get labeled as a shooter. That’s the label Lauri had,” Hoiberg said. “But he really is a complete basketball player. He’s versatile, he can put in on the deck. He slides his feet very well for a guy that’s seven feet tall, someone his age. Yeah, he’s learning on the fly. He’s gonna have ups and downs, as young as he is. He’s gonna have some struggles at times. But he’s played pretty darn well for everything he’s been through, understanding two days ago he’s gonna be in the starting lineup.”

And for all the bad air around the Bulls right now, from the on-court product to the off-court drama that seems to follow them around like Pigpen, it would be even worse if Markkanen’s first two games had him looking like a corpse, or someone who would be a couple years away from reasonably contributing to an NBA team.

“He’s good, he’s very good,” Gasol said. “I like him. I like his game.”