Bulls

The Jimmy Butler-Isaiah Thomas matchup is tricky territory for the Bulls

The Jimmy Butler-Isaiah Thomas matchup is tricky territory for the Bulls

Even in a small ball world, big usually beats little in terms of elite talent, as evidenced by LeBron James besting Stephen Curry in the last three games of the NBA Finals last June.

So as the Bulls prepare to take on the Boston Celtics in their first-round playoff series, they know containing the ultimate “little” in this series may have to require a big of sorts for them to have a reasonable chance at an upset.

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is all of 5-foot-9, depending on the day of the week, and is constantly on the attack. If the NBA ranked the leading scorers in points per inch (height), Thomas would be at the top of the list but will have to settle for being behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden at 28.9 points per game.

Which means there will come a time where having Rajon Rondo or Jerian Grant or Michael Carter-Williams just won’t do for Fred Hoiberg, and he’ll have to call upon Jimmy Butler to shadow Thomas for stretches—probably in the fourth quarters assuming the games are close.

And considering Thomas trails only Westbrook in terms of fourth-quarter scoring at 9.8 points, you can bet Butler will have to chase Thomas around screens and have to deal with Thomas’ herky-jerky style as he often gets to places in the paint only he can fit in.

“Yeah, I look forward to that matchup,” Butler said at Bulls practice Friday, two days before the series opener at TD Garden Sunday night. “Especially what he’s done this year for that team. I know it’s going to come at some point and time. I don’t know when, I don’t know where, but you know, I’m going to make it tough for him.”

Avery Bradley, Al Horford and Jae Crowder are secondary scorers for the Celtics and all are capable of hurting the Bulls if left alone, but Thomas—like his namesake, Isiah—is the force that drives this Celtics team.

“We need to understand it’s a team problem, it’s not just the guy guarding him, it’s not just an individual assignment,” Hoiberg said. “He’s so good getting into the paint, getting downhill.”

Isiah Thomas, the Chicago native, disproved the “big beats little” theory for quite some time when his Pistons took on the Chicago Bulls in their heated playoff battles.

Stopping this Thomas is probably the biggest key to the Bulls pulling off an upset, although the Bulls have to be careful about running down Butler, as he likely carries too much of a burden on both ends as is.

“He’s a big part to what they do,” Butler said. “I think we all know that, I think they know that. But you can’t just take him out of the game and think you’re going to win. Nah, because they’ve got a lot of other really good players, role players, that make shots, that create for others, that guard, that rebound, pass the ball. They’ve got a really good team and they’re really good at what they do.”

When Butler was asked how long he could stay on Thomas, the uber-confident swingman said “the whole game”, but that doesn’t seem to be realistic considering he’ll be guarded by Crowder, Bradley and Marcus Smart—meaning he won’t catch a break at any point.

It’ll be incumbent on Hoiberg and the coaching staff to find a way to have a apt defender on Thomas without pressing the “in case of emergency, break open Jimmy” button.

And Butler, never one to shy away from a marquee matchup, may have to resist his competitive urges in going head-to-head—or chest-to-head in their case—for the betterment of the Bulls.

“I know other teammates that I have can guard him, that want to guard him, that look forward to that matchup just as much as I do,” Butler said. “Nobody is backing down from anybody on our side, and I’m sure they feel the same way on their side. So whoever is locked in on guarding him, guarding Jae [Crowder], guarding whoever it may be, like I always say, you win your matchup, you win the game.”

Rondo and Grant will have to keep Thomas busy on offense, exploiting Thomas being a defensive liability, as he’s one of the worst fourth-quarter defenders in terms of defensive rating.

“We do have a plan in place, but obviously you have to adjust if things are going in the wrong direction, but we do have a plan on how we are going to try to slow him down a little bit, which is obviously difficult to do,” Hoiberg said.

So the same way Thomas will run the 220-pound Butler through picks and strenuous off-ball movement, the Bulls will have to pound Thomas on the other end, making him work and perhaps making Celtics coach Brad Stevens adjust to what they’re doing.

But it does seem to the Bulls that if it comes down to big versus little, they’re happy with their 6-foot-7 wing late in games.

Report: Vote scheduled for ‘20-to-22’ team NBA return plan, expected to pass

Report: Vote scheduled for ‘20-to-22’ team NBA return plan, expected to pass

The NBA is expected to have a plan to resume its season approved by owners at a vote on Thursday, June 4, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.


The news comes on the heels of a call with the Board of Governors Friday that yielded nothing definitive. Four potential formats for relaunching the season and a target date of July 31 to resume play were reportedly floated.


But the above report from Wojnarowski marks the most marked progress towards the league formally agreeing on a return-to-play plan to date.

Predictably, the precise details of the plan are not yet known. In conjunction with Zach Lowe and Ramona Shelburne, Wojnarowski reported that the plan is expected to feature invitations for “20-to-22” teams.


That would mean no invite for the Bulls — perhaps a blessing in disguise (or dressed plainly). The Bulls are currently paused with the 24th-best record in the NBA at 22-43, and are 8.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference.

Still, the team opened the Advocate Center Friday morning with clearance from both Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago officials. Players in the area will be permitted to undergo NBA-sanctioned treatments at the facility, an opportunity which Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn have already taken advantage of. Voluntary, socially-distanced, individual workouts may begin Wednesday when Chicago is expected to enter Phase 3 of its reopening. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley will be en route to the city soon.

The NBA suspended its season on March 11 after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. A resumption bid seems on the cusp of coming to fruition.

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How story of Michael Jordan secretly practicing with Warriors was unearthed

How story of Michael Jordan secretly practicing with Warriors was unearthed

Before Michael Jordan rejoined the Bulls, he was a Warrior for 48 hours. Figuratively, of course.

No, Jordan didn’t officially sign (or even consider the notion) with the Warriors during the MLB strike that punctuated his first retirement amid the 1994-95 NBA season. But he did secretly practice with the Dubs multiple times whilst retired — and, with rare purpose, dominated multiple All-Stars in midseason condition. 

That story was unearthed on NBC Sports’ “Sports Uncovered” podcast. Some of the people behind the production of the podcast, NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, Ryan McGuffey and Tony Gill, joined Jason Goff on the most recent episode of the Bulls Talk Podcast to discuss the behind-the-scenes machinations behind its creation.

McGuffey called the secret Jordan-Warriors practice runs the “golden uncovered nugget” of the podcast. And it came about rather serendipitously, in a chance interview with Tim Hardaway.

“The Tim Hardaway interview kind of fell in our lap. He was in our office one day and it was like, ‘Hey, do you want Tim Hardaway?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah!’” McGuffey said. “I mean, he was an All-Star. I don’t know if it’ll give us anything, I don’t know if it’ll lead to anything. 

“Sometimes the interviews you don’t plan for are the ones that become a stone that you turn over and you’re like ‘What is this?’ And Tim Hardaway made a comment, I asked about the Berto Center practices and whether or not he understood what was going on here in Chicago. And he said, ‘I’m gonna get in trouble for saying this.’ ... When a guy says that, you know you got something."

They did, indeed. From there, on recommendation from Hardaway, the crew got in touch with Rod Higgins, then an assistant coach with the Warriors, now the Atlanta Hawks' VP of basketball operations. As detailed in the podcast, it was through a connection with Higgins that Jordan was even allowed to participate in the practices in the first place.

McGuffey and company entered their sit-down with Higgins ready to pry, equipped with volumes of follow-up questions and previously-researched points. But Higgins was ready to share.

“We reached out, found Higgins with the Hawks and reached out to them and told them exactly why we wanted to do the interview. We said this is the story, here’s what’s been said and can you validate?" McGuffey said. "And he didn’t validate it, he didn’t double down, he tripled down and gave us more facts, more details.”

You can hear those details by listening to the Sports Uncovered podcast here, via the embedded player below or wherever you get your podcasts.

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