Jimmy Butler's return a successful one in Bulls' win over Rockets


Jimmy Butler's return a successful one in Bulls' win over Rockets

An alley-oop dunk signaled a triumphant return for Jimmy Butler, and a one-night reprieve from the month-long misery for the Chicago Bulls.

It was a night of firsts or “first time in awhile” in their 108-100 win over the equally-floundering Houston Rockets at the United Center, as the Bulls ended their four-game losing streak.

Butler was in uniform for the first time in nearly a month and was greeted with one of the toughest covers in the game, Rockets guard James Harden, as his welcome back matchup.

Harden scored 36 but struggled with Butler on him, as each dealt with foul trouble all night with Butler fouling out with a little under three minutes left.

Butler scored 24 points with 11 rebounds and six assists, as the Bulls pulled ahead of the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Obviously you see the impact Jimmy has with his ability to make things difficult for the elite wing players in this league,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He gives you great physical presence out there and stays in front of guys.”

Butler caught a one-handed alley-oop from Pau Gasol early in the first quarter, showing no ill effects from the left knee strain that cost him 11 games in the last month.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought I would be,” said Butler of his conditioning, although he looked winded a couple times out there.

“My competitive spirit kicked in and I got to doing what I do best---fouling," he added laughing.

It was a nod to him fouling out for the first time this season, which almost signaled doom for the Bulls as they allowed the Rockets to make things interesting despite leading by as many as 17 points.

“It got a little stagnant in the fourth but we were able to protect the lead,” Hoiberg said.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

It was a Nikola Mirotic sighting for the first time since January 25 as he’s recovering from hematoma surgery and an appendectomy, and he hit two triples early in the fourth quarter to push a close game to breathing distance.

Butler, Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy saw the floor together for the first time this season, and there were plenty of moments where the group worked together for backdoor cuts and transition triples, as Dunleavy kept moving and Rose and Butler kept looking for him, scoring 12 in 30 minutes.

“It was great tonight, his energy was awesome,” said Dunleavy of Butler’s return. “He provided a huge boost for us, especially on the defensive end and dealing with Harden. We look forward to keeping him healthy and keeping him out there.”

Derrick Rose had a spill early, taking a charge on Butler and falling on his side and looked a bit ginger in the second half, returning only after Butler fouled out and the Bulls leading by 12.

Rose committed six turnovers, but scored 17 with nine assists and had a spirited matchup with fellow Chicagoan and workout buddy Patrick Beverley, earning double technical fouls in the second quarter.

In another first, the Bulls had an early lead for the first time in awhile, jumping out front, buoyed by the energy from the Saturday night crowd, seemingly desperate for a positive showing and not ready for this team to fall under the .500 mark.

But it wasn’t all rosy, as they committed 26 turnovers, succumbing to the Rockets’ frenetic trapping pace, often forcing passes and plays that wound up in the expensive seats rather than the intended targets.

“We talked about making quick decisions and slipping through the double teams to let Pau play with more numbers on the other side,” Hoiberg said. “Too many carless passes and their hand pressure really bothered us.”

[RELATED: Derrick Rose shrugs off technical foul, hard fall in Bulls win]

Luckily for them, the Rockets couldn’t hit much from the 3-point line until it was desperation time, or very well could’ve walked away winners in what would’ve been an unbelievably disappointing finish for the Bulls.

Gasol committed eight of those turnovers, bested only by Harden giving it away nine times of his own, but Gasol filled the stat sheet against former teammate Dwight Howard to make up for things.

Gasol scored 28 with 17 rebounds and six assists in 38 minutes, outplaying Howard, who fouled out with 12 rebounds to go along with just eight points as he didn’t look comfortable with the one-man show offense Harden was running.

The Bulls didn’t look comfortable for stretches either, getting reacclimated to Butler’s presence and unable to truly get ahold of the Rockets forcing them to play out of control.

But with the current state of affairs, the Bulls need it any way they can get it, and they hope to figure out the rest on the back end.

Bulls Talk Podcast: White shines in preseason finale vs Hawks


Bulls Talk Podcast: White shines in preseason finale vs Hawks

On this edition of Bulls Outsiders, Matt Peck, John Sabine, and Dave Watson react to the Bulls preseason finale, a 111-93 win over the Hawks.

0:25 - Young Hawks vs young Bulls and increased expectations for Bulls

1:35 - On the Bulls bench performance

2:10 - On Coby White’s 29 point effort

4:00 - On White and Dunn together on the 2nd unit

6:25 - On Denzel Valentine not being part of the rotation

7:20 - Viewer comment on Dunn playing the Marcus Smart role

7:45 - Question on if White will eventually start, impact of Satoransky on LaVine

9:22 - What’s White’s best role?

10:00 - The Outsiders on talking hoops with Jim Boylen

11:05 - Small concerns over Markkanen’s preseason

12:33 - More viewer comments including where Hutchison fits when healthy

15:25 - is Matt on the Big Red Bus? (tm See Red Fred)

16:40 - Viewer question about Coby leading the team in scoring; why LaVine is the star

19:35 - The LaVine midrange ‘controversy’

21:35 - Viewer question on best case scenario for Bulls win total

23:30 - See Red Fred repeats his mantra

26:20 - Excitement for the season opener

27:00 - On Luol Deng retiring as a Bull

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls have makings of a real team as game week begins

Bulls have makings of a real team as game week begins

The next time the Bulls take the floor – Wednesday night in Charlotte – they’ll be playing for keeps, looking to make good on their verbalized goal of making the postseason for the first time in three seasons. They’re lofty goals for a team that won just 22 games a season ago, but they put the finishing touches on a promising preseason in their 111-93 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that has them feeling confident in what’s ahead.

True, it came against a Hawks team playing a rare back-to-back (with both games on the road) and one that was resting John Collins, but the Bulls once again shared the ball, played with urgency and continued their 2019 style in a game they led the final 38 minutes.

Coach Jim Boylen treated the game as a dress rehearsal for the season opener against the Hornets in six days, solidifying his 10-man rotation and getting significant contributions from both units. With star power in Zach LaVine and (hopefully) Lauri Markkanen, a supporting cast that’s buying in and a few promising youngsters, the next stage of the Bulls rebuild is shaping up nicely.

“I thought each guy had moments,” Boylen said after the game. “I thought we did a good job of getting the ball to the open people or the hot man…That’s what good teams do. They find the guy that’s got it rolling. They keep it rolling as long as they can. And then we pick each other up when maybe a group or section of the game where we’re struggling. I’m happy for that.”

It once again began with Zach LaVine, who finished a terrific preseason with 23 points on 11 shots in just 25 minutes. He was a model of efficiency – he didn’t attempt a midrange shot – and finished his four-game preseason stretch with 93 points in 96 minutes, shooting 32 of 54 (59.2%) and making 14 of 25 3-point attempts (56.0%). Every completed rebuild needs a player like how LaVine is playing right now. It should be an All-Star season for the 25-year-old.

Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter were quiet in the preseason but there’s not much to read in to about their performances. Wendell Carter Jr. shook off a couple injury scares and put together his best performance of his limited preseason, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds and drawing some praise from Boylen for his off-ball intangibles. He should be full-go in five days when the Bulls begin playing for keeps.

Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky did exactly what they’ve done their entire careers: They were quiet but effective, with the latter forming a solid tandem with any frontcourt player he appeared with, and the latter grabbing the starting point-guard reins.

The second unit remains a question mark, but it will enter the regular season with some serious momentum. Despite being officially demoted to the second unit just days earlier, Kris Dunn again drew praise from Boylen for his effort and energy that sparked the Bulls in the second quarter.

“I thought Kris Dunn’s energy off the bench changed the game,” Boylen said. “He got us going. His effort, his energy, his focus was great. Some nights we’re gonna be in mud, we’re gonna be a little sluggish. And he’s been practicing really hard and I was really proud of what he did in that moment to kind of get us going. I’m happy for him.”

Dunn may be able to stay on the floor thanks to the scoring prowess that rookie Coby White is showing. The seventh overall pick scored a game-high 29 points and made 6 of 8 3-pointers. That 3-for-30 effort in the Las Vegas Summer League feels like forever ago, and for a bench that lacks much scoring, White’s ability to do just that becomes even more significant. His last three preseason games: 23.6 points in 25.3 minutes. He had just one assist, but the Bulls will take that scoring and shooting right now.

Boylen called his stretch of triples in the third quarter “as good as we’ve seen in this building in a while.”

Luke Kornet has won the backup job over Daniel Gafford, while Ryan Arcidiacono (and presumably Chandler Hutchison when he returns from a hamstring injury) is ahead of Denzel Valentine, who Boylen said needs to “stay ready” despite not being in the 10-man rotation. The bench is the Bulls’ weakest spot, but even Boylen admitted they’re starting to get a little rhythm together.

The caveat, of course, is that it was just preseason. Everything changes when the games start counting. On the one hand, the Bulls’ first five opponents include one projected playoff team (Toronto), On the other hand, four of those first five games are on the road. What worked in preseason isn’t guaranteed to work in the regular season. But for what the Bulls could have proved in the preseason – that they’re forming a team with specific roles and players buying into them – they did to a T, and it should make for a promising Year 3 of a rebuild.

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