Butler saves Bulls win after Rose leaves with ankle injury


Butler saves Bulls win after Rose leaves with ankle injury

With Derrick Rose, everything comes with a caveat, even an encouraging, complete offensive performance.

After his most efficient showing of the season, compiling 23 points with six assists on 9-for-18 shooting, one bad step brought the United Center crowd to a murmur when he came up lame after being fouled on a drive by Monta Ellis.

He tried to shake off the left ankle sprain, staying in the game for the next two possessions, but soon went to the bench and to the locker room for the final five minutes of the Bulls’ 96-95 win over the Indiana Pacers.

He walked to the locker room under his own power, showing an evident but not heavy limp. And all could’ve been lost considering the air had been sucked from the Madhouse, feeling more like a sad house until Jimmy Butler stepped out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

[MORE BULLS: Paul George adds another chapter to comeback tour with Pacers]

Butler had been chasing around a red-hot Paul George for most of the night, and with 5.1 seconds left George had a chance to complete a late comeback with a fadeaway jumper at the free-throw line.

But George couldn’t increase his 27-point night, due to Butler’s outstretched arm that disrupted the last chance for the Pacers, leaving George on the floor complaining and frustrated, sealing the Bulls’ win.

“Just knowing where it’s coming,” Butler said. “PG’s a hell of a player, a tough guard for anybody in this league. I was right there to contest it.”

Butler, in the argument with George and Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio) for the best two-way player in the game not named LeBron James, didn’t necessarily win the individual battle with George, as George added seven rebounds and five assists to his ledger compared to Butler’s 17 points, four assists and three rebounds.

“Paul made a strong move into the lane and made a great move to get open,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Butler also made a great play defensively. I don’t think there was a foul, he just made a good defensive play."

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Butler did hit a late jumper to put the Bulls up three with 1:23 left, temporarily holding off the late charge when the Bulls’ free-flowing offense slowed to a crawl late, scoring just 17 in the fourth.

Making just 20 of 32 free throws contributed to the struggles, as well as Rose’s absence.

“We got stagnant,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had some time of possession errors. I thought our flow was good all night, we had good pace. Just those last eight minutes we shut it down from the paint. We have to push out the lead and continue to do that.”

Rose’s best all-around performance of the season buoyed the Bulls to an early 13-point lead, as he made both of his 3-point attempts, his last in the fourth quarter when the Bulls were reeling.

“His tempo and his shot was really good,” Hoiberg said. “You could tell that first 3 was going in as soon as it left his hands. He’ll keep getting in better shape. I thought he played terrific.”

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Rose was the key to the high-octane, efficient offense, and he displayed his most efficient basketball of the season. He played fast but under control, got to his sweet spots and followed a trend he began in last spring’s playoffs, using the glass on mid-range shots.

After dominating the game early, taking a 13-point lead due to Rose’s aggressiveness in the first quarter, the Pacers climbed back into the game, mostly due to the shooting of C.J. Miles and George.

Miles hit five triples on the way to 19 points, leaving Hoiberg no choice but to sit Nikola Mirotic, Miles' primary defender, after just 19 minutes.

It left a bit of a hole offensively as the game evolved late, but the defense played off some muscle memory when it counted.

“It was a dogfight,” said Taj Gibson (nine points, 11 rebounds), the only player to play the entire fourth quarter on either side. “We had a lot of plays on offense we usually make. A couple of ins and outs, that didn’t deter from my defense. We got some tough stops late, and that’s the ball game.”

The Bulls shot just 32.5 percent in the second half, and were out-rebounded by the smaller Pacers, 26-23, in that span, all playing a part in the comeback along with George and Ellis catching fire. Each scored 14 after the half, and Ellis finished with 20.

But even Rose’s minor injury couldn’t dampen the optimistic spirit afterwards, as the Bulls reminded themselves they still have a defensive mindset that won’t disappear overnight.

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season


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


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.”