Bulls

Dwyane Wade ready to return vs. Nets on Saturday

Dwyane Wade ready to return vs. Nets on Saturday

The plan has been in place for a few days now and now Dwyane Wade looks ready to make his return after an 11-game absence, Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.

Wade went through a full practice at the NBPA Headquarters in Manhattan and assuming there are no setbacks, he'll be in the lineup Saturday afternoon with three regular-season games remaining.

How many minutes he plays and whether he's starts or not is to be determined, but Wade certainly sounds like a man who's preparing to play as opposed to modeling in his inactive threads.

"Got another good day in so obviously I'm ahead of schedule from the diagnosis when it first happened," Wade said. "But the final decision comes from trainers and coaches, if they're comfortable with me playing."

CSNChicago.com reported Saturday was the target date for Wade to return from his fractured right elbow, which is at least a week ahead of schedule from when he injured himself on March 15 against the Memphis Grizzlies when getting tangled up with Zach Randolph in the second half of the Bulls' 98-91 loss.

"Dwyane participated in everything, we did a little scrimmage in the end and participated fully," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He looked good. We'll head back to the hotel now, everybody will sit down as a staff and make a decision on where we go from here."

[RELATED: Bulls prepare for the return of Dwyane Wade]

Wade said the coaching staff and trainers have to make the final determination on whether he's ready to come back and Hoiberg said the initial decision has to be made from the trainers.

"I don't know. It comes from them," Wade said. "They gotta get together. They just keep asking me how I feel and I kind of through this whole process I know my body really well, so I've been communicating with them through this. I guess they'll out their minds together and see if they think I'm ready."

In his mind, the decision has been made. 

"I feel like I'm ready to get back out there and try and play. They've watched me practice, so they've seen things that I haven't," Wade said. "Obviously by sitting and watching, did I protect it? I don't know. I tried to just go out there and play. I feel comfortable, I'm not feeling any pain, so we'll see. Hopefully they'll let me get out there tomorrow and play a little bit, try and get back in the flow a little bit, and also try and help the team make this push that they've been doing an amazing job of to try and get into the playoffs."

And of course, being the prideful player that he is, Wade would like to start and gradually increase his minutes with the playoffs starting eight days from now.

"I would like to start. But it's Coach's decision," Wade said. "I would like Coach to play me. So whatever he decides to do is what I'm going to do. This right here is about our team. It's not about me. I just want to make sure that I come in and help this team continue to win."

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The Bulls have gone 7-4 without Wade, with some surprising wins and more recently, dealing with a lighter schedule that will continue to the regular-season finale Wednesday against the same Nets team they'll face on Saturday.

In his absence, Wade has witnessed Jimmy Butler take the reins even more while also seeing Rajon Rondo take control and Nikola Mirotic emerge on the other inside of maddening inconsistency.

Wade called Butler a "Franchise player" and said Butler has been playing like a top-5 player since he got hurt. For the team, Wade seems impressed with the Bulls' resilience.

"Finding a way to win, that's the one thing I've seen," Wade said. "Sometimes people say it's ugly basketball. But I just feel like we're finding ways to win. In this league, you have to do that, especially right here, right now. You look at the schedule and you say, ‘Well, they got the easiest schedule.' But we're playing against NBA teams. We're playing against guys who are playing very free. When guys are playing free, it's even harder to play against them."

What to watch for: Karl-Anthony Towns is back, Timberwolves visit Bulls

What to watch for: Karl-Anthony Towns is back, Timberwolves visit Bulls

A returned Karl-Anthony Towns and the stumbling Minnesota Timberwolves roll into Chicago losers of their last six — can the Bulls take advantage? The game tips off at 7 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

Timberwolves’ last five games (0-5)

  • Jan. 20 — L vs. Nuggets: 107-100

  • Jan. 18 — L vs. Raptors: 122-112

  • Jan. 17 — L at Pacers: 116-114

  • Jan. 15 -- L vs. Pacers: 104-99

  • Jan. 13 — L vs. Thunder: 117-104

Storyline(s) to watch

Of the Timberwolves’ (15-28) 28 losses, 17 of them have come as a result of two rather lengthy losing streaks. The first — an 11-gamer from Dec. 1 to Dec. 23 — marred a surprising 10-8 start to the season and dropped them to the bottom of the Western Conference. Minnesota now rides into Chicago in the midst of a six-game winless stretch and losers of 20 of their last 25. 

Last week, the team shipped its starting point guard Jeff Teague to Atlanta, a signal of a shift towards development. Like the Bulls, the Timberwolves have implemented a sparkling new offensive system this season, and to similarly underwhelming results: Minnesota owns the league’s 22nd-rated offense (105.9 points per 100 possessions) and though they jack the third-most 3-point attempts per game in the NBA (39.3), they convert at the second-lowest clip (32.4%). On a team-wide basis, just about their only above average skill is running — they start Robert Covington in the power forward slot, rarely play two bigs together and rank seventh in the NBA in PACE

For the Bulls (16-29), this one kicks off a three-game stretch of relative reprieve. Currently 3-8 in the month of January, their next three opponents — Minnesota, Sacramento, Cleveland — own a cumulative record of 42-88, as of this writing. Zach LaVine watch continues: He’s averaging 28 points per game on 59.6% shooting in four career games against the team that drafted him and 30 points per game this January.

Player to watch: Karl-Anthony Towns

Towns missed an extended 15-game stretch from mid-December to mid-January with a sprained left knee, but returned last week. In three games since, he’s averaging 22.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4 assists per contest on 43.1/28.6/89.5 shooting splits — but that's a small sample size compared to the gaudy 26.5 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists (51.4/41.8/79.6) averages he registered in 23 games before injury. He’s good.

 

Questions persist in regards to his defense, but Towns remains an absolute juggernaut of an offensive center, and his impact is immense. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Timberwolves score a whopping 14.1 points per 100 possessions more with Towns on the floor rather than off, sport a 54% eFG% with him (compared to 47.6% without) and he drastically (positively) impacts their volume and efficiency at the rim and from 3-point range. He can create from anywhere on the floor, and against the Bulls’ currently undermanned frontcourt, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him feast.

Matchup to watch: The Rooks

Coby White and Jarrett Culver were picked one spot away from each other in the 2019 draft (Culver no. 6, White no. 7). Now, they’ll square off for the first time.

With the aforementioned trade of Teague, the Wolves seem to have opened up a permanent spot and role in the starting lineup for Culver — a well-timed development. In the month of January, he’s averaging 14.5 points and 5 rebounds on 45.7% shooting (31 minutes per), and has scored in double-figures in 11 of his last 12 games. While the playmaking still needs some molding (0.57 assist:usage ratio), these are great strides for a player who got off to a clanky shooting start to the season.

White has had his ups and downs, as well, but has yet to be given the rein Culver has gotten recently (23.6 minutes per game in January). Still, he’s a candidate to break out on any given night, and while Culver’s defense is renowned, White outweighs him in pure scoring ability. If they find themselves across from one another, it adds another layer of intrigue to what should be a competitive matchup.

Injury report

No new official developments for the Bulls, but Otto Porter Jr. was at practice yesterday (sans boot) fielding rebounds for teammates. He’s still not cleared for any basketball activities as of yet, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Jim Boylen: “It'd be wrong of me to give you a timetable on that [Porter’s return]. He's improving and what we're hoping for is as he gets his shoes back on and gets on the floor those juices start flowing and hopefully he can be back sooner rather than later. So, we'll see how it goes, we will not take a chance with him but we're excited about his progress.”

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Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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