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Bulls: Jimmy Butler will see Dr. James Andrews about left knee

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Bulls: Jimmy Butler will see Dr. James Andrews about left knee

The triumphant return of Jimmy Butler hit a snag the size of Alabama.

Butler, perhaps unsatisfied with what he’s been told compared to what he feels in his recovering left knee, is taking a trip to see famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Dr. Andrews has treated athletes across all mediums, generally regarded as the best in the country.

Butler missed 11 games with what’s been termed a left knee strain, returned for one game Saturday night and then sat out Monday’s game with knee soreness. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg sounded somewhat optimistic about Butler’s chances to return Thursday in San Antonio, but he won’t play and his return is in doubt.

“He’s going to go down and see Dr. Andrews down in Alabama today, just to get a second opinion on the knee,” Hoiberg said. “So tomorrow he won’t play. We’ll hopefully get some news tomorrow and then confer with everybody and get a plan together.’’

Butler played 34 minutes in his return game and looked like himself, but apparently even after the knee swelling went down he still doesn’t feel completely comfortable with his body to this point.

At an event for hunger awareness Wednesday morning at Chicago’s Lakefront Athletic Club, Butler said he wanted to play Thursday but also hinted at his future plans before they were revealed.

“I want to play as many minutes as I can but I don't think my body will let me do it right now, and that's the toughest part,” Butler said. “I pride myself on being tough and taking the challenge against James (Harden), against Kawhi (Leonard), whoever it may be. I want to play. I've got a lot of made up time to make up. I've been out since Feb. 5, so I've got to get my body back from Feb. 5 and get ready for these playoffs.”

With 20 games left and the Bulls hanging on by a thread to the final playoff spot, Butler’s importance to the season is of large significance—but being in the first year of a five-year maximum contract he signed last summer, the future should be just as important, too.

“You can call it what you want,” Butler said. “I don't think I'm here to be smart. I think I'm here to play basketball, I'm here to help my team win, I'm here to represent Chicago the best way I can. I want to play basketball.”

[RELATED: Hoiberg encouraged by Bulls' ending 100-points-allowed streak]

Butler initially hurt his knee bumping knees in Salt Lake City on their west coast trip, sat out a game in Sacramento only to return the next game in Denver. It was against the Nuggets where his left knee appeared to give out on a late second-quarter drive and had many wondering if it was more than a knee strain.

“I cannot stand not playing but I don't want to start back over like I did Feb. 5 and make it worse,” Butler said. “Yeah, there was a little swelling and little aches and pains, but hopefully I'm good to go, because I want to play. I don't want to have to play a game here, sit out, sit out, play, sit out, sit out. No, I want to play.”

Hoiberg said it was Butler’s decision to see Dr. Andrews, perhaps an indication of the difference of opinion in what the team thinks and how Butler feels, pain-wise.

“Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea to go down there and just get an opinion from one of the top doctors in the world,” Hoiberg said. “The swelling has gone down. The swelling is pretty much gone now. He’s just got a little bit of pain on the back of that knee and we just want to be safe with it.’’

For the ultra-competitive and hyper-aware Butler to miss a nationally-televised matchup with perhaps his biggest peer in terms of being the best two-way player in basketball, Kawhi Leonard, it means Butler is likely taking this very seriously.

Hoiberg has come under some whispers that perhaps he played Butler too long in his first game back Saturday night, when he played 21 in the first half and finished with 34 minutes before fouling out.
But he defended the plan laid out to him by doctors about Butler’s treatment

“Jimmy had two really good weeks going 100 percent on that leg,” Butler said. “Had a really good practice the day before [the game with Houston]. Got him out in a game situation, felt great during the game.

“We monitored him throughout that game on how he was feeling. He actually felt good the next morning. Participated in practice. And then it swelled up on him. So as far as the plan the first time around, as far as going hard for two weeks, that was the plan that was put in place.”

And as the plan is taking a turn south—the Bulls had better hope it’s more geographically than literally, with their season on the line.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

Outspoken Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban conceded his team was playing for draft lottery position last season, but insisted it would be a one year only strategy.

Dallas finished tied for the league’s third worst record, but fell to fifth after the lottery.

So, Cuban and the Mavs’ front office decided to make a bold move on draft night, trading their 2019 first round pick to Atlanta to move up two spots for a chance to select international sensation Luka Doncic.

Early in the season, Doncic has more than lived up to the hype, showing the creativity and flair that made him such a fan favorite on the European professional circuit. Through the Mavs’ first two games, Doncic is averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists while giving Rick Carlisle’s team a much-needed boost in transition.

Doncic and second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. will give opposing teams nightmares in the open court all season long. They led the offensive onslaught in the Mavs’ 140-136 win over Minnesota Saturday night, combining for 45 points. Doncic finished with 26 points, while Smith scored 10 of his 19 in the 4th quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with six seconds left.

Veteran swing-man Wesley Matthews added 19 against the Timberwolves, and his 3 point shooting helps the Mavs maintain floor balance in half-court sets.

The Mavs also strengthened their front court in the off-season, signing veteran center DeAndre Jordan in free agency. Dallas was overmatched in the middle last season, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki and Dwight Powell giving up size in the post, but Jordan will provide rim protection and an alley-oop threat when Doncic, Smith Jr. or veteran point guard J.J. Barea drive to the basket. Jordan had a big game in the home opening win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and blocking 5 shots.

Nowitzki, starting small forward Harrison Barnes and backup guard Devin Harris all missed Saturday’s game because of injuries, but Barnes and Harris are considered game-time decisions against the Bulls.

Here’s what the Bulls will need to do to get their first victory of the season Monday night.

1. GET BACK ON DEFENSE! Doncic and Smith Jr. are deadly in the open court, capable of making spectacular plays to bring the home crowd to life. The Bulls’ players have to sprint back on defense after missed shots to cut off transition opportunities, or it’s going to be a long night. The Mavs are averaging 128 points through the first two games.

2. CLOSE OUT ON 3-POINT SHOOTERS This will be a familiar theme in my keys until the Bulls start doing a better job of matching up in transition and closing out on three point threats. Detroit’s win at the United Center on Saturday came down to the Pistons’ 18-40 shooting from three-point range, and Dallas has even more players capable of doing damage from beyond the arc.

3. LET DUNN DO IT Getting Kris Dunn back from paternity leave should make a big difference on both ends of the court. Dunn has the athleticism and physicality to match up with either Doncic or Smith Jr., and his defensive skills will be critical in keeping the Mavs from turning this game into a track meet.

On the offensive end, Dunn need to be patient and get the ball into the hands of the Bulls’ top scorers, Zach LaVine and Bobby Portis. Even though Fred Hoiberg wants his team to play at a fast pace, they’ll need to pick their spots on when to run against the explosive Mavs.

As always, turn to NBC Sports Chicago for the very best pre and post-game coverage. Kendall Gill and Will Perdue join me for Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m/, and we’ll have expanded post-game analysis when the action goes final in Dallas. You can also stream the shows live on the brand new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

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Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”