Bulls

Jimmy Butler gets his jersey retired at Tomball High School

Jimmy Butler gets his jersey retired at Tomball High School

No, the Bulls haven't yet decided to hang Jimmy Butler's No. 21 in the United Center rafters next to Michael Jordan's No. 23 and Scottie Pippen's No. 33.

But one of Butler's former teams did retire the All-Star starter's number Thursday.

Tomball High School in Texas honored one of its most famous grads, retiring Butler's jersey with the Bulls star on hand.

Check it out:

A very cool moment for Butler. And maybe a sign of things to come?

Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders reflects on 'special bond' with Zach LaVine

Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders reflects on 'special bond' with Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine's brilliance has become a staple in every corner of the United Center — on the court, throughout the Bulls locker room and even in visiting coach's media sessions.

Normally, the generals of the opposition will provide a canned response when asked about LaVine, one that centers around his unique scoring ability, his work ethic, or even an allusion to his All-Star candidacy.

But with the Timberwolves — the team that drafted LaVine in 2014 — in town, Minnesota head coach Ryan Saunders went a little deeper. Saunders has known LaVine since the sixth-year guard's teenage years, and coached him for his first three professional seasons in Minnesota as an assistant.

"There's a lot of things I remember with Zach, because Zach is a player that I formed a special bond with," Saunders said. "A lot of the things I remember with Zach weren't necessarily basketball things. But how he treated people. He's one of the best guys I've been around at a young age, being mature in how he treated people within an organization, on the business side, everything, fans."

From there, personal anecdotes flowed out of Saunders. A walk around the Minnesota State Fair after LaVine's introductory press conference as a rookie. Watching proudly from the sideline as LaVine took part in the dunk contest at All-Star weekend. 

"He was in the gym two days before that in Minnesota, we were practicing his dunks," Saunders said. "And he was throwing off the wall and things like that.

"But more than anything I just remember Zach and the way he treated people."

Saunders said that quality is what made him sure LaVine was going to be successful. His last reflection illustrated that to a tee.

"At my wedding, he was the first person I saw outside the church when me and my wife just got married, because he had raced from Chicago," Saunders said. "He had just gotten traded, but he still raced from Chicago. And his flight was delayed, but he had to be there. That's a moment that's always gonna stick with me."

"I was going regardless, that's a family friend and you can't miss those type of things," LaVine said in an October appearance on Zach Lowe's 'Lowe Post' podcast when asked about attending Saunders' wedding, despite having just been traded.

Of course, Saunders hit on the clichés, too.

"He's having a great season," Saunders said. "The way he can score the basketball and the way he's almost take over games late. We saw that in the Charlotte game earlier in the season, there are a number of games that he's really been a huge catalyst to Chicago's wins here, so we have our hands full with him."

But at the end of the day, competition is competition. Saunders sprinkled some candor, even into that praise:

"We just don't want him to have that same production tonight."

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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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