Bulls

Butler's performance came in front of the influential Jerry Colangelo

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Butler's performance came in front of the influential Jerry Colangelo

The adoration of the Bulls fans in attendance washed over Jimmy Butler as they waited for him to complete his postgame interview on the Wells Fargo Center floor, cheering him as he exited through the tunnel and to the locker room after his 53-point performance.

“It felt good, I’m not gonna lie,” Butler told CSNChicago.com after completing speaking with the media at his locker.

The adrenaline that flowed as he ignored the pain from his sprained right ankle caught up with him as he soaked his feet in the locker room, not ready to put his performance in perspective but well-aware he’d done something special.

Necessary, but special, particularly when he was told who was in attendance for the game: None other than Jerry Colangelo, Executive Director for USA Basketball, the man who holds the biggest piece to Butler’s prospective Olympic candidacy in his hands.

“Oh really? Wow. That’s big time,” Butler told CSNChicago.com. “Hopefully he likes what he saw. It’s my dream to represent this country and some of the best players in the world. It’s a good night to do what I did.”

[MORE: Beyond the Box Score: Analyzing the Bulls' screen defense]

Colangelo has taken a prominent role in the 76ers organization after the neglect with the current regime, and the longtime respected executive was in attendance, flying in from his home in Arizona where he was treated to quite a performance from Butler.

“That’s fine. The bossman was in the building for the USA team,” said Butler, his eyes getting wider and wider. “Just gotta continue to play like that and help us win games. We’ll worry about USA (team) when it gets here.”

In the moment though, Butler’s performance would’ve never been birthed if not for Trevelle Gaines, one of Butler’s trainers, who challenged Butler to play all 82 games this season.

With the way Butler’s right ankle swelled up between Tuesday’s game in Milwaukee and Thursday morning, no one would’ve been surprised if Butler took the night off and rested his body for more meaningful contests.

“Because I have a bet with my trainer (that) I’ll play 82 games,” said Butler with a smile. “When I’m nicked up, my trainer, Mr. Travelle Gaines said ‘we gotta get you to play 82’. So I gotta take care of my body, hydrate, take care of my knees. He said let’s do it.”

And never one to back down from a challenge, the man who didn’t participate in shootaround was introduced with the starting five. Although, playing the game’s final 37 minutes and three seconds was a little more than he likely bargained for.

Butler became the fourth player to tally at least 50 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in the last 30 seasons. Michael Jordan did it twice (1989, 90), along with Chris Webber (2001) and Dwyane Wade (2009).

“He’ll get treatment tonight. Jimmy’s a warrior, he’s out there fighting,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “As the game went on, it almost look like--I don’t know if ‘fresher’ is the word but the ankle kept feeling better and better. And obviously he’s fighting and playing through adrenaline as the game goes to overtime.”

Once he checked back in for Tony Snell with 8:03 remaining in the second quarter, he didn’t miss a second of game action. The Bulls were in critical condition, down 19, and headed toward life support two minutes later when the 76ers took a 24-point lead behind a bunch of players who weren’t exactly household names.

“Me tired? That never happens. No, that doesn’t happen (laughs),” Butler said. “I was tired. When I was tired, my teammates did what they had to do. When I wasn’t tired, they got me the ball and let me attack.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Butler went 15-for-30 from the field and made 21 of 25 free throws, the 21st time in NBA history a player scored 50 or more with 15 field goals or fewer, signifying the contact he took from the 76ers and the work he put in, as opposed to just getting hot.

“They need me to be aggressive every night,” Butler told CSNChicago.com at his locker. “No matter who it’s against, from the jump. That’s gotta be my role on this team, make guys guard me so I can get a lot of guys easy shots.”

But without the prodding of his trash-talking trainer’s voice in his head, Butler could’ve chosen to sit this one out and not given Colangelo a final impression to make decisions for the summer.

Before the game, Colangelo told CSNChicago.com that next week USA Basketball will reveal the 30 players it’ll take to summer camp before making final cuts before the Olympic Games in Rio.
Upon hearing that, Butler’s eyes got wider.

“They’re gonna make some announcements next week? Well, whenever he makes the announcements everybody will find out something, including myself,” he said.

“I gotta needle my way in and out of 30 guys. At first, though, I gotta win some games for the Bulls.”

New-look Mavs looking to make big jump this season

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USA TODAY

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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USA TODAY

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.”