Bulls

Fred Hoiberg plans to slightly cut Jimmy Butler's minutes

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Fred Hoiberg plans to slightly cut Jimmy Butler's minutes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Individual absolutes have been few for the Bulls in recent years, despite their overall successes in the win column but one thing is for certain: finding Jimmy Butler’s name atop the league leaders in minutes played.

At first it was Luol Deng but now Butler has taken his place as the NBA’s Ironman. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, Butler has averaged nearly 39 minutes per contest in 132 games—a full minute more per game than Carmelo Anthony, next on the list at 37.7 minutes per contest.

But Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg hopes to shave off some minutes for Butler this season, with the thought he won’t be worn down come playoff time, when the tread on the tires begin to show. Of the top 10 players in minutes per game during that stretch, only LeBron James can realistically say he plays both ends of the floor hard, but even he doesn’t play defense as consistently as Butler has been known to do.

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“We’ll see how that plays out,” Hoiberg said. “I would like to have him play a little less than that (usual), so at the end of the season he’s fresh. You want all your guys, fresh, not only mentally but physically and hopefully we’ll accomplish that.”

Butler, who signed a maximum contract in restricted free agency this past summer, doesn’t appear to be a huge fan of the strategy to bring his minutes down, but even if Hoiberg manages to achieve it, Butler will still be high on the list.

“I’m fine with where I’m at. It’s a body thing,” Butler said. “If I’m feeling good enough to play however many minutes, then we gotta go with that. As of right now I’m healthy. I’ll play as many minutes as necessary.”

It’s no secret one division between former coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office was his usage of players. But Butler flourished under Thibodeau and seems to take pride in his high endurance.

[RELATED: Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Jimmy Butler before season starts]

He won’t acknowledge getting fatigued, even though there was talk from the Milwaukee Bucks players in the first round of last season’s playoffs that Butler mentioned how tired he was to them.

Perhaps a little gamesmanship or an admittance to fellow athletes who know what that grind is like.

“There’s no need for that, to tell you the truth. Even if I am tired I really can’t show it, so there’s no sense in being tired,” Butler said. “My team needs me to produce. Oct. 27 (Season opener) is coming soon, so we gotta be prepared for it.”

With Butler’s contract and new standing in the league and on the team, the Bulls appear to be taking steps to conserve his energy so he can be effective when it matters the most. It could be part of the reason Hoiberg doesn’t want to start Doug McDermott while Mike Dunleavy recovers from back surgery, because it would essentially guarantee Butler would have to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter.

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If the Bulls start the more defensive-minded Tony Snell, it gives the Bulls the option of switching Butler on or off said player, or choosing to save Butler for the offensive end altogether.

Doesn’t look like Butler is buying it, though. He played a team-high 37 minutes in Monday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets, and believes when it comes down to it, he’ll be in front of the likes of Anthony and James.

“I really haven’t thought about it. I’m gonna guard the opposing team’s best player, I think that’s what it’ll come down to at the end of the day,” Butler said. “We’ll see coming soon. I can’t say what we’re gonna do. It’s about helping the team win, whatever the strategy is that particular game we gotta go with it.”

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.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

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USA TODAY

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”