Jimmy Butler teaches a lesson in Bulls' win over Suns


Jimmy Butler teaches a lesson in Bulls' win over Suns

Jimmy Butler had high praise for Phoenix Suns rookie Devin Booker but that praise came with a bit of a lesson, as Booker learned it the painful way: Talking trash to a guy who’s looking for a reason to get fired up is a bad idea.

“He was talking trash to me,” Butler said. “That’s what was crazy. He was talking to me. I was like, ‘Excuse me.’”

The incredulousness in Butler’s voice manifested itself in the fourth quarter, as Butler abused the league’s youngest player in the fourth quarter after the Suns had everything on their side: A raucous crowd that was filled with a lot of red in the stands, momentum after trailing by 17 and coming in on a three-game winning streak, all by double digits.

But they didn’t have Jimmy Butler, who made the Suns pay in the last 12 minutes for 14 points on his way to a season-high 32, as the Bulls put away a pesky Suns team at Talking Stick Resort Arena, 103-97, for an encouraging start to a three-game western swing.

Booker blocked a Butler layup in the fourth and barked at him a bit the next time downcourt, even hitting a pair of triples to help build precious second-half momentum.

Then Butler put the Booker on the block the next two times, luring Booker into biting on pump fakes for fouls, the latter a three-point play as Booker’s hack was no match for Butler’s strength.

He proceeded to let the crowd know he was feeling it, much to the approval of a big chunk of the fans in attendance, and looking forward to the challenge of going head-up with the reigning MVP of the NBA champs on Friday, Golden State’s Stephen Curry.

“Yep. I look forward to guarding everybody in this league, especially a prime time scorer like him,” Butler said. “So I’ll ask coach for that matchup. No disrespect to him but I like that.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Butler finally admitted he loves the opportunities of having his teammates look for him when they need a big basket, the hallmark of a player determined to prove he’s worth every bit of a maximum contract he signed over the summer.

“It just shows how far I’ve come and how I worked on my game to be able to score the ball late and for my teammates to know my ability to score,” Butler said. “That’s the utmost respect coming from them to me and me returning the favor because I’m showing I can put the ball in the basket.”

With Nikola Mirotic struggling and Derrick Rose out, Butler knew much more of the burden would fall on his shoulders, as he wouldn’t allow Hoiberg to take him out for a quick spell to start the fourth.

“I tried to take him out, he wouldn't let me,” Hoiberg said. “It was almost like his energy level went on in that fourth quarter and that's what big time performers do. They step up when you need it most.”

Booker just happened to provide a little extra kerosene on a smoldering fire that was bound to explode in the final stanza.

“Kid has got potential. He can really shoot,” Butler said. “But sometimes I think you should just play the game and let that be it.”

Booker was feeling the momentum, as the Suns stalked the Bulls for the better part of three quarters after a disastrous opening 12 minutes and even took an 88-87 lead with 4:47 left.

“I knew we would be in for a heck of a battle,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “They picked up the pressure. They were the tougher team for a stretch but we got it back at the end.”

[MORE: Rose's availability vs. Warriors in question]

On one possession in the second half, the Bulls allowed six offensive rebounds close to the basket until PJ Tucker scored on the lucky seventh try, as their aggressiveness forced 20 turnovers to make up for shooting just 41 percent from the field.

Without Rose (ankle) and having Aaron Brooks tweak his left hamstring twice, Suns guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight looked to have field days on the perimeter, getting to the paint and combining for nearly half of the Suns’ scoring (44 points).

But Kirk Hinrich helped aid Butler in his cause of saving the Bulls on the character-building road opener, hitting a triple after a Pau Gasol driving dunk, part of his 14-point, six-assist performance.

“I put him back in there and hit that huge 3 off that ball screen. He played solid minutes,” Hoiberg said. “He's the one, early in that game he did such a good job getting us into an offense and getting our defense organized.”

Gasol got the Bulls off to a 72-percent shooting start by making his first five shots on his way to a 17-point night, and before Brooks got hurt, he made his presence felt after getting shut out of playing time against the Pacers with 12 points and five assists in 19 minutes.

But in 42 grueling minutes, the night belonged to Butler, setting the tone and perhaps firmly establishing himself at the top of this food chain.

A lesson Booker learned the hard way.

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again


Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.