Jimmy Butler, Bulls wax Thunder to begin extended road trip

Jimmy Butler, Bulls wax Thunder to begin extended road trip

OKLAHOMA CITY—Dwyane Wade twisted and spun and turned poor Anthony Morrow into a confusing, dizzying sap, unleashing a soft baseline fadeaway that danced around the rim while he faded near the Bulls’ bench.

As it nestled into the rim, Wade turned to a seated Rajon Rondo and slapped him in the chest, apparently so impressed with himself that even Wade could show Rondo some love to start the Bulls’ critical road trip.

There was plenty of love in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and plenty of energy—both from the Chicago Bulls as they put together their most comprehensive effort in quite awhile, pounding the Oklahoma City Thunder 128-100 on Wednesday night.

For all the talk about the road presenting an opportunity for the Bulls to bond more and heal some wounds that were opened or at least revealed to the public in the last week or so, a good old-fashioned butt-kicking has a way of making people seem to like each other a little more.

“It was one of our better games from start to finish,” Wade said. “It was a good way to start this trip off.”

The Bulls started their first long western swing with a big win over Portland and that confidence carried through as the Bulls went 4-2 in November, creating a sense of optimism they’ve been unable to fulfill in the time since.

Wednesday harkened back to the days where the Bulls were thought to be good, and interesting. Now, at least they’re interesting and on this night, they were very good, jumping out to a 10-point lead in the first quarter.

Next to a short stint between the end of the first and start of the second where the Thunder took a slim lead while the Bulls struggled to score, they quickly gathered themselves to dominate throughout—a rarity in recent time.

“I thought we did a great job of following the game plan and getting back and loading in transition,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.

And with the Oklahoma City Thunder having very little snap to their punches—unless you count Russell Westbrook punching a Jimmy Butler breakaway layup into the third row—the Bulls had a pretty easy and efficient time against the Thunder.

Shooting 60 percent through three quarters and 61 percent overall, the Bulls didn’t even need to hit triples but played with the desired pace and unselfishness Hoiberg dreams about.

“From the second quarter on I thought we were really good as far as our pace,” Hoiberg said. “We had 28 fast break points, getting the ball up the court and sharing it again.”

Wade had seven assists to go along with his seven rebounds and 18 points in 24 minutes while Rondo had six assists in 16 minutes. Butler, who could barely move in their first meeting as he was in the early stages of an illness, made up for it with 28 points in 30 minutes, hitting 11 of 17 shots and adding five assists with four rebounds.

Jerian Grant was off to a good start, scoring nine and hitting his first four shots from the field, taking turns with other perimeter defenders in guarding the unguardable Westbrook.

“I don’t ever think Westbrook is going to be tired. That guy, he’s not human,” Hoiberg said. “It doesn’t even look like he sweats when he’s out there on the floor. He’s a machine.”

Butler took the bulk of the assignment, and Westbrook shot 10 of 23 for 28 points, eight assists and five rebounds in 29 minutes but didn’t make a truly impactful play when it counted.

“You have to challenge every shot he puts up,” Butler said. “He can go downhill at the basket, he can make the outside shot. You just have to try your best to make everything tougher.”

The Thunder were held to 36 percent shooting and kept bricking triples, shooting 8-for-35. Although the Thunder seemed to be teetering well into the first two quarters, on the second night of a back to back, the Bulls only held an eight-point lead going into halftime.

Then Wade took over in the third with scoring and playing, with some nice look-away passes for assists while he couldn’t get it going early, then once he did, carried the Bulls offense. 

They stretched their lead to 21 at 76-55 midway through and cruised through the rest of the night.

He allowed Butler to rest a little on offense while Westbrook, the high-usage counterpart, was burning oil trying to keep the Thunder in the game. He had 27 by the end of the third but his team was awful shooting-wise and couldn’t get anything going.

It was just what the Bulls needed at just the right time.

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.