Youth impresses, Jimmy Butler closes in Bulls win over Pelicans

Youth impresses, Jimmy Butler closes in Bulls win over Pelicans

NEW ORLEANS — Evaluation time.

With nothing to play for except lottery position, the Bulls have found themselves in unfamiliar territory with two games remaining, meaning the roles have reserved among the personnel.

The proven players take seats, and the young guys take center stage — except for Jimmy Butler, who was determined to be on the floor for the Bulls’ 121-116 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.

Pau Gasol sat, as the probability that he’s played his final game for the Bulls is a real option, along with Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore. It meant more of a look for Cristiano Felicio and first-round pick Bobby Portis to get extended time without looking over their shoulders, and they played with usual intensity.

It wasn’t much in the way of entertainment value, considering the Bulls were without prime players and the Pelicans have been riddled by injuries all season, but seeing Felicio and Portis wrestle with veterans Kendrick Perkins and former Bull Omer Asik was compelling enough to produce honest assessments.

Portis scored 13 with eight rebounds, while Felicio was again efficient around the rim, scoring 16 with six rebounds on 6-for-8 shooting.

“He’s still very early in the process and the sample size is still very small, but for everything that he’s shown out there that he can do it fits the way we want to play,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said of Felicio when asked if the rookie could be a starter next season.

“He’s got the mobility and the athleticism to affect the game in a lot of ways. So we’re excited to have him back next year with another year under his contract, and we’ll see what happens. But I absolutely think Cris can be a long-term guy for the franchise."

Butler, the closest thing the franchise has to a long-term option, didn’t want to sit and essentially refused to stay on the bench with the vets, seizing an opportunity to play point guard like he boldly stated in the offseason.

After dishing out 11 assists through three quarters, he returned with six minutes remaining and many wondering why he or Hoiberg would put him in that situation given the stakes and his health.

Pouring in 12 fourth-quarter points to finish with 23 on 8-for-11 shooting, he felt it was his obligation to give the fans what they wanted — and the competitor in him perhaps wanted the challenge of finishing a game out.

“I tried to keep Jimmy under 30 minutes tonight,” Hoiberg said. “It says a lot. It says he wants to be the leader of this team. He was getting guys the ball, leading us to the finish line.

“He’s shown me a lot, shown his teammates a lot. He can get good looks for himself and his teammates. We run a lot of pick and roll (with him). Jimmy does a good job with that, he was making the right play all night long.”

Hoiberg almost didn’t put Butler back in the game at the midpoint mark of the fourth, but Butler’s stares down the sideline forced Hoiberg to playfully admit, “I caved, I caved.”

Butler scored nine straight to help the Bulls pull away, after helping Justin Holiday (14 points) and Nikola Mirotic (20 points) go off early. The Bulls shot a season-high 57 percent from the field.

Somewhat defiant about his reasoning to play with the stakes being meaningless, Butler laid out his case.

“I don’t ever want anybody to think I’m quitting on my team. I’m not,” Butler said. “I’m not saying Pau or Derrick is, either. That’s not what I’m saying. I love this game, I’m fortunate to play every day. If I can go out there and compete, that’s what I’m gonna do.”

When it comes to playing point guard, Butler knows the look might not be as smooth but he can be effective, as Monday was his fifth game with 10 assists or more.

“I know what I’m capable of,” Butler said. “It’s what I tell coach, what I tell Aaron (Brooks) when he jokes with me: I may not be the best shooter or passer, but I can pass the ball to the open man and I can get to where I need to on the floor.”

And being able to finish the game with some of the young players, he hopes will set some kind of example going forward.

“It’s very important. I was in that position in one point in time in my career, not too long ago,” Butler said. “I know what it feels like to want to get reps with guys who play more than you. When they see me out there competing, fighting with them, they’re always gonna give me everything they have on the floor. I want them to continue to compete, continue playing hard.”

Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games


Bulls announce substitute broadcasters for first five Neil Funk-less games

If you haven't heard, Neil Funk is cutting 20 road games from his 2018-19 Bulls' play-by-play schedule.

Friday, the Bulls announced that Adam Amin, Andy Demetra and Kyle Draper will fill in for Funk for the first five of those games.

Amin, a play-by-play commentator for ESPN, will games on Oct. 22 against the Mavericks and Nov. 14 against the Celtics. He grew up in Addison, resides in Chicago and also does play-by-play for Bears preseason games.

Demetra is from Oak Brook and currently is the play-by-play broadcaster for Georgia Tech basketball and football. He will call games on Oct. 26 against the Hornets and Oct. 27 against the Hawks. He has previous play-by-play experience with the SEC Network, Pac-12 Network and Fox Sports South.

Draper will call the Bulls' Nov. 7 game against the Pelicans. He is the Celtics' pregame and postgame host for NBC Sports Boston and an occasional play-by-play annoucer and sideline reporter for the Celtics.

The Bulls said they will continue providing updates on substitute broadcasters as they are scheduled.

Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East


Pistons have the look of a playoff team in wide open East

Finishing 9th in the Eastern Conference last season cost Stan Van Gundy his job as Pistons head coach and President of Basketball Operations. Van Gundy was replaced on the bench by 2017-18 Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, who was fired after the Raptors were swept by Cleveland in the conference semi-finals.

Casey’s job in Detroit is to find a way to develop the young players on the roster while getting the team to the playoffs. He has a pair of All-Star caliber players in the front court, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, along with highly-paid, erratic point guard Reggie Jackson.

Griffin has battled injuries in recent seasons, but Van Gundy decided to roll the dice at mid-season a year ago by trading Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley AND a 1st round pick to the Clippers for the former slam dunk champion in a desperate bid to save his job. The trade didn’t work out for Van Gundy, but it’s possible Griffin could enjoy a resurgence in Detroit this season.

The 29-year-old power forward scored 26 points, pulled down eight rebounds and dished out six assists in the Pistons’ 103-100 win over Brooklyn on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Drummond had a monster game with 24 points and 20 rebounds. As Bulls fans know all too well, Drummond has made the 20 rebound game commonplace when facing Fred Hoiberg’s squad in recent years.

As for Jackson, a severely sprained right ankle limited him to just 45 games last season, probably costing Detroit a chance to make the playoffs. The 8th year pro is lightning quick, with the ability to disrupt defenses by getting into the paint and challenging bigger defenders at the rim. Jackson scored 19 points in the season opener against Brooklyn, and he’ll be a problem for the Bulls Saturday night, especially if Kris Dunn is unavailable.

Casey is still trying to figure out how to use the rest of the roster Van Gundy built, with recent 1st round pick Henry Ellenson and former rotation player Jon Leuer getting DNP-CD’s against the Nets. Meanwhile, two other expected rotation players, small forward Stanley Johnson and swingman Reggie Bullock missed the opener because of injuries.

That left second year guard Luke Kennard and 2018 2nd round draft pick Bruce Brown as the other starters in game one, something that’s unlikely to continue once everyone’s healthy.

So, how do the Bulls even their record at 1-1 on Saturday? Here are my three keys:

1. Keep Drummond and Griffin off the offensive boards. This is much easier said than done. Drummond in particular is relentless going after missed shots, and his bulk will cause problems for 19 year old rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Hoiberg hinted at possible line-up changes on Friday morning, which could include starting veteran Robin Lopez at center to battle Drummond inside. Griffin has turned into more of a jump shooter now and doesn’t have the multiple jump capability that characterized his early seasons in the NBA, but he’s still a threat to create 2nd shot opportunities.

2. Close out on three-point shooters. Of all the defensive issues for the Bulls in Philadelphia on Thursday, losing touch with shooters in transition was probably the most troublesome. Robert Covington seemed to be open at the three-point line throughout the game, and Bulls players struggled to handle cross-match situations. Kennard had one of the best games of his rookie season against the Bulls, and Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway are all capable of heating up from long distance.

3. Attack Detroit’s interior defense. The Bulls were at their best offensively in the first quarter against Philadelphia when they drove to the basket to set up easy scoring chances. Zach LaVine was getting to the rim at will in scoring 15 of his 30 points in the opening 12 minutes, and his penetration also set up Bobby Portis for open looks from the three-point line. Hopefully, Dunn will return to stabilize the point guard position and give the Bulls' first unit another shot creator so they can sustain their pace and scoring potential over four quarters.

Saturday’s home opener is definitely winnable against a Detroit team still finding its way under a new coaching staff. Better effort and attention to detail on the defensive end along with a fast-paced, drive and kick offensive attack should make for an exciting opening night at the United Center.

Make sure to join Kendall Gill, Will Perdue, Kelly Crull and me for a special one hour edition of Bulls Pre-Game Live at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago and the new My Teams app, followed by the play by play call with Neil Funk and Stacey King at 7 p.m. And, stay tuned after the final buzzer for reaction and analysis on an expanded edition of Bulls Postgame Live.