Bulls

Bulls prepare for the return of Dwyane Wade

Bulls prepare for the return of Dwyane Wade

PHILADELPHIA — Some are being more coy about it than others, but Dwyane Wade will return from his right elbow injury Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets, just in time to get a couple games in before the playoffs.

And Jimmy Butler is the happiest guy in the room, his eyes lighting up when asked about the prospects of how Wade will fit in with a Bulls team that plays a little differently than the one he left on March 15.

“I’m stoked to have my guy back, let him get out there, get in a rhythm, and do what he’s done for years,” Butler said to CSNChicago.com as he walked off the floor following the Bulls’ 102-90 win over the Philadelphia 76ers Thursday night. “We just want him comfortable and pick up where he left off.”

How Wade fits into a team that plays a little faster, shoots more threes and relies more on the playmaking of Rajon Rondo than it did before will be interesting to see, and won’t be an easy adjustment.

But with three games remaining and the Bulls still in “must-win” mode, trying to clinch a playoff spot, it could prove as the perfect training ground before the postseason.

Butler, who takes up his share of possessions as a facilitator as well as scorer, will take it upon himself to make sure Wade fits in with the way things are done. Wade will certainly get his share of touches to create, but Wade was also one of the league’s premier off-the-ball scorers when he played next to LeBron James in Miami.

“Tell him to be aggressive, pass him the ball to where he can get used to scoring with ease and let him know to come in and stay aggressive,” Butler told CSNChicago.com. “We want him to be that way the last three games and hopefully, the playoffs.”

Wade nearly carried the Miami Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, as they fell in a Game 7 to the Toronto Raptors in the East Semis. Any semblance of that player will be invaluable for the Bulls this time around.

“Even though we’re playing good without him, we can’t make the playoffs without D.Wade,” Nikola Mirotic said. “We need him to have a chance. We need his experience, he knows how to play those games. We don’t have that much experience. He’s been working so hard to get back. Hopefully he can return and we can make the playoffs and everybody will be there. We’re gonna fight.”

Mirotic has played in 12 playoff games, back when the Bulls advanced to the second round before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games before Tom Thibodeau was fired and Fred Hoiberg was brought in.

[RELATED: Jimmy Butler's triple-double leads Bulls past Sixers]

Butler was a different player then as well in 2015, as was Wade last year. But he knows with all the conditioning and drills and rehab Wade has been up to, nothing compares to game action.

Which is why getting him out there against a bad Brooklyn Nets team or an underachieving Orlando Magic team is better than throwing him out there in Game 1 of a playoff series next Saturday or Sunday.

“Now it’s about getting in a rhythm. Like he knows and everybody knows there’s no shape like basketball shape,” Butler told CSNChicago.com “As much running and shooting as we can do, it’s different when you get out there in a game. Like I said, I just want him out there just going, just playing and doing what he does.”

Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

Bulls VP John Paxson says Zach LaVine 'deserves' to be an All-Star

On Thursday, Zach LaVine will find out whether he makes his first All-Star game as a coaches’ reserve selection.

“Zach deserves to be an All-Star,” executive vice president John Paxson said. “I know we don’t have as many wins as we all would like. But nobody can ignore what he has done and it would be [an oversight] if he doesn’t get recognized.”

If he doesn’t, LaVine, and the Bulls, will be disappointed. But missing out shouldn’t obscure what is becoming a special season for LaVine.

Saturday’s masterpiece of 44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a road victory over the Cavaliers is just the latest example. With averages of 30 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists in January, he’ll also draw strong consideration for Eastern Conference player of the month.

Each summer, LaVine tries to add something to his game. This season, his focus centered on consistency and improving defensively. The 14 straight 20-point games is a sign of the former. And while he admittedly still occasionally drifts off the ball, his 1.4 steals per game mark is a career-best.

LaVine is on a streak of 14 straight 20-point games. His fourth 40-point effort of the season came with all defensive attention on him because Lauri Markkanen missed his second game of an extended absence with a hip injury. And that’s on top of the Bulls playing without Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr.

LaVine’s eight assists highlighted the improved decision-making that is defining this breakout season. And it also allowed him to join Michael Jordan as the only Bulls in franchise history to record at least 44-10-8 in a game.

That’s not the only time LaVine is getting mentioned in the same sentence as Jordan this season. He became the second-fastest player in franchise history behind Jordan to score 3,000 points in a Bulls uniform, needing 24 more games.

And he became the first player in franchise history to sink 300 3-pointers in 132 or fewer games.  He’s on pace to set the single-season franchise record for 3-pointers this season.

LaVine is averaging career-highs in scoring at 25.3 points per game, 3-point percentage at 38.9 and rebounding at 4.9. After a slow start, LaVine has increased his free-throw attempts to 5.6 per game, just .4 off last season’s career-high. He has increased his free-throw attempts per game every season he has been in the league.

Some critics still paint LaVine’s accomplishments as empty calories. There’s another line of thought that LaVine needs to be ball-dominant — his usage rate of 31.7 ranks 10th — to be successful.

LaVine still takes the occasional heat check. But his forced shots are way down and he’s carrying such an offensive burden mostly because he has to for this Bulls team. An example of his do-whatever-it-takes mentality: He has led the Bulls in rebounding since Carter went down to his sprained ankle.

LaVine has said he'd be more likely to participate in Saturday's slam dunk contest — and the 3-point shootout if he's invited — if he lands in Sunday's real All-Star game. What a weekend it could be. But even if it doesn't happen, LaVine is focused on this goal for the right reasons. He wants the Bulls to win.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

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USA Today

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Zach LaVine drops 44 in Cleveland

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and David Watson discuss the Bulls win in Cleveland, create their own Bulls Royal Rumble and squash the beef with Mark Giangreco.

1:00 - Jim Boylen's best moment of the season

2:30 - Another All-Star performance from Zach LaVine

4:30 - Luke Kornet had a good game for Luke Kornet

5:45 - Reaction to some criticism of LaVine's game

8:15 - Can one game change a players All-Star chances?

9:00 - The newest edition of "Guess what D-Rose did?"

11:30 - Guys react to viewer comments

14:00 - The Chicago Bulls Royal Rumble 2020

22:30 - Guys react to more viewer comments

25:10 - The guys squash the beef with Mark Giangreco

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders

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Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.