Bulls

Jimmy, D-Rose, Embiid, LeBron, Lonzo: 10 most intriguing games on the Bulls' 2017-18 schedule

bullsschedulewadebutler.png
USA TODAY

Jimmy, D-Rose, Embiid, LeBron, Lonzo: 10 most intriguing games on the Bulls' 2017-18 schedule

The Bulls had as busy an offseason as any team in the NBA, which means there will be plenty of headliner games on their 2017-18 schedule, which the league announced Monday.

Here are 10 that all fans should have circled on their calendars:

1. Feb. 9, vs. Minnesota: This may be one of the most anticipated games featuring non-contenders of the season. Draft night's blockbuster deal that sent Jimmy Butler and the No. 16 pick to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick is just the tip of the iceberg. Tom Thibodeau is still at the helm, and Taj Gibson signed with Minnesota in July. On the other end, Dunn and LaVine (assuming he's ready to go by then) will get a chance at revenge on the team that traded them. Butler jokingly said he's going to try to score "like 5 points" against the Bulls, but our guess is he's especially up for this game. It's also the Bulls' only scheduled nationally televised game of the year. Long live the #TNTBulls.

2. Dec. 4 vs. Cleveland: It's always a big game when LeBron James comes to town for the first time, and for the last seven seasons that's meant the Eastern Conference champions arriving with him. But there's an added twist this year, as quite the familiar face will be joining King James in Chicago. Derrick Rose signed a one-year, veteran's minimum deal with the Cavs. It remains to be seen whether he or Kyrie Irving will start at the point when these teams meet, but it's sure to be awkward when Rose and LeBron run a fast break to perfection. This sure ain't 2015 anymore.

3. Dec. 18 vs. Philadelphia: We Trusted the Process, and now the Sixers look like legitimate contenders for a playoff spot in the East. And although Joel Embiid has been in Philly for two years and Ben Simmons for one, the Bulls didn't see either in their matchups last season. Expect that to change in December, when the Bulls get a dose of what a successsful rebuild looks like. With Embiid, Simmons, No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and a host of other young talent in the mix, the Bulls will get all they can handle with this group. They'll also get the blueprint for how they should proceed with their own rebuild.

4. Oct. 21 vs. San Antonio: It's the home opener for the Bulls, and in recent years that's meant good news. Winners in eight of their last nine openers at the UC, the Bulls will have their hands full when Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs come to town. Then again, the Bulls have managed to beat Gregg Popovich's group at the United Center in each of the last three seasons. They also had All-Star Jimmy Butler in those three matchups. The results may look different this time around, but recent records sure are on the Bulls' side.

5. Nov. 4 vs. New Orleans: It's always fun when hometown superstar Anthony Davis returns to Chicago. Last year The Brow dominated at the United Center, going for 36 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in 39 minutes. Davis is back, and he's bringing DeMarcus Cousins with him this time. He's also bringing free-agent acquisition Rajon Rondo, who spent last season with the Bulls. Rondo originally was in the Bulls' near-future plans before they entered a rebuild, and it should be plenty of fun to watch him play against the young players he mentored last year. The last impression Bulls fans have of him was his absurd Games 1 and 2 against the Celtics, so expect Rondo to get a rousing applause in his return.

6. Nov. 24 at Golden State: There's never a fun time to play the Warriors. But this matchup is going to be brutally difficult. The Bulls begin their 2017 season playing 11 of their first 17 games on the road, and it ends with a trip to the defending champs' home court. The Warriors have been prone to ugly losses against lesser teams, but this might look something like last year's game in Oakland did (no Jimmy Butler, no Dwyane Wade meant a 31-point loss). Still, it's always incredible to watch this Warriors offense work, so it's making the list.

7. Oct. 19 at Toronto: So the Bulls no longer have their ridiculous winning streak against the Raptors that had spanned 11 games and four seasons. But this is the team's season opener, marking the official start of the rebuild in a place where they've had success in the past. It's unlikely Zach LaVine will be ready, but the Bulls will get to unwrap new toys in Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen and watch the development of guys like Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne and others. From the Warriors to the Hawks to the Cavs to the Bulls, a season opener is a season opener. This one will be fun.

8. Nov. 21 at Los Angeles Lakers: You'll be hearing plenty about this, but Lonzo Ball is going to be must-see all year. He's the most exciting rookie point guard we've seen in quite some time, and the Lakers seem to be building something serious around him. Like Philadelphia, the Bulls can learn something from LA's rebuild that has seen them add players like Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Ivica Zubac and Kyle Kuzma. This game will be a solid test for the young Bulls, especially if they're still without Zach LaVine. But all eyes will be on Lonzo. 

9. Jan. 8 vs. Houston: There's a new superteam in town, and they're bringing their act to the Windy City right after the calendar flips to 2018. Chris Paul and James Harden have teamed up to form what should be one of the most fun offenses in the league to watch. There's a shot Carmelo Anthony is part of this roster by then, adding more intrigue to the game. Assuming the new-look Rockets (they also added PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute) hav worked out all the kinks this far into the season, this one could get ugly.

10. Nov. 19 at Phoenix: We're tossing this one on the list for a few reasons. There's an outside chance Kyrie Irving is the starting point guard by this time. Also, a Jimmy Butler trade certainly could have gone down with the Suns this offseason. It's a little game of "what if" when watching players like Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender, who could have been part of a rebuild. Past that, CSN's digital department is #TeamSuns, so it's making the cut.

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.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”