Bulls

'Kobe Stopper' Butler battles Bryant in Bulls' win

986941.png

'Kobe Stopper' Butler battles Bryant in Bulls' win

Dont pay any attention to them, Jimmy Butler said after Monday nights 95-83 Bulls home win over the Lakers.

The second-year swingman wanted the media to ignore his teammates chants of Kobe Stopper, after Butler, starting in place of Luol Deng, who missed his second consecutive contest with a strained right hamstring, held Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant to 16 points on 7-for-22 shooting.

He had an awful night. He missed shots that he normally makes. Thats who Kobe is, a real tough matchup. Its hard, my teammates were there for me, but I just tried to make everything hard for him, Butler explained. It was all about getting into his space, but it wasnt just me defending him. If I got beat, Joakim or Booz or somebody was always there, so we defended him as a team, I should say.

Maybe it frustrated him a little bit, but he missed a lot of shots. The pull-ups, the open threes, he makes those. When you see Kobe on the highlights, he knocks those down. He just didnt make too many shots tonight.

Butler also chipped in with 10 points of his own, as well as eight rebounds and four assists in over 43 minutes of action.

Jimmys a great defender, Kirk Hinrich said. I thought he did a good job. Upon being posed a question focusing on Butlers efforts, Joakim Noah exclaimed: Jimmy Boy!

Jimmy Boy was huge. Defensively, I think its great for him. Hes making a name for himself. Hes proven that not only is he a great defensive player, but hes showing his athleticism, he hit a huge shot at the end therebig jump shot. It just makes us that much tougher to know that we have guys like that in the lineup.

Even the likes of demanding Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was pleased with Butlers performance.

Jimmy was terrific. A guy like Kobe, you cant guard him individually and so, you have to rely on your entire team, he said. With Kobe, he missed some shots that he normally makes, but you have to guard him with your whole team, in every aspect. He goes from a one-on-one to a back-down to a pick-and-rollvery few guys can do that and hes great in all threeand then, hes great moving without the ball and he can play-make, hes got great will, hes clutch, so you can never let your guard down against him.

Before the game, Thibodeau discussed how Butler is living up to and perhaps exceeding expectations, as he progresses throughout his second NBA season, particularly now that his mentor, Deng, is out of the lineup for the time being.

I think Jimmy has done a really good job. I thought he made the commitment this summer. I thought he put a lot of time in this summer. I thought he played well in the summer league, continued to come in, played behind Luol. The thing I really like about him is doesnt take him a long time to warm up, so usually we ride Luol into the second quarter and some guys need five minutes to warm up, the coach explained.

Jimmy, you put him in the game, hes ready to go, from the moment he gets in. Hes not afraid of the moment and often times, you can finish a game with him. He handles that part well. When hes been given extended minutes, hes handled that well and he showed the other night that hes very capable as a starter. But thats what I expect from everybody. When one guy goes down, the next guy steps up and gets the job done.

But perhaps the biggest measure of well Butler played was the kudos he received from Bryant. The future Hall of Famer has seen many players who tried to defend him come and go, and while he wasnt especially expansive, the basketball purist paid the youngster a deserved compliment afterwards.

I have nothing but praise for the way he competed, Bryant said. I was proud of how he played and defensively, he stuck to his principles.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.