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Analytics Art: Derrick Rose bouncing back to form despite Bulls meltdown

By Ben Leibowitz, special to NBA.com

Amid the Chicago Bulls’ ill-timed slump and fall from the Eastern Conference playoff picture (they’re one game back from the No. 8 seed Indiana Pacers heading into action on April 2), Derrick Rose has been playing his best basketball in years.

The 2011 NBA MVP has dealt with a barrage of injuries since establishing himself as one of the league’s best players. He’s missed 224 of a possible 403 regular season games since being named Most Valuable Player, primarily due to devastating knee injuries.

He’s already played the most games in a season since 2010-11 this year, and staying healthy has allowed Rose to knock off years of rust. While he struggled throughout the first half of the season, he’s mostly shined since the All-Star break. In fact, his stats since All-Star Weekend are actually somewhat comparable to his MVP season.

After averaging 21.9 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds throughout February, Rose has continued to play well via efficiency through March. In the “Shooting” tab within the visualization, you can see Rose was particularly dead-on from beyond the arc. He drained 40.5 percent of his attempts from distance in 15 games — significantly better than his career mark of just 30.4 percent from three-point territory.

That marksmanship from distance is unheard of for Rose, who has always been more of a slasher who uses his pure athletic talents to get to the bucket and score. But he’s reinvented himself of late by scoring with efficiency from inside and outside the arc.

Unfortunately, Rose was ruled out for the second half of Chicago’s most recent game against the Houston Rockets. He went scoreless on zero shot attempts in 12 minutes of action before being shut down to nurse an elbow ailment.

The Bulls have work to do if they’re going to make it into the playoff picture by season’s end. They play a big game against the Detroit Pistons on Saturday, but it remains to be seen if D-Rose will be back to action and playing as well as he has been of late. Coupled with struggles from Jimmy Butler — who has reached the 20-point plateau just twice since returning from injury on March 14, Chicago fights an uphill battle.

Note: This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz (https://twitter.com/BenLebo) is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

 

Morning shootaround — March 31


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs won’t chase 41-0 home mark | Warriors set franchise wins record | Report: Chemistry issues dogging Bulls | Cousins, Rondo face suspension | Russell deals with fallout from video incident

No. 1: Spurs won’t chase perfect home record — The San Antonio Spurs had to endure a fourth-quarter push by the New Orleans Pelicans, but held on last night to win 100-92. The victory moved the Spurs to 38-0 at AT&T Center this season, marking the best home start in NBA history to break the 37-0 record the Chicago Bulls compiled in 1995-96. Three home games stand between home court perfection, but in typical San Antonio fashion, going 41-0 at home means nothing to the Spurs. Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com has more:

Gregg Popovich’s blank stare on Wednesday previewed what he would say when asked what it meant for the San Antonio Spurs to run off their 38th consecutive home victory and set a record for the best home start in NBA history.

“Absolutely nothing,” Popovich said. “Maybe a cup of coffee. Maybe.”

While observers might view what’s percolating in San Antonio as special, the Spurs consider the regular-season accolades meaningless if they’re walking away in June without a championship trophy in hand. Most made that abundantly clear in a business-as-usual locker room on the heels of San Antonio’s 100-92 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

“The only thing I see is that we can try and win a championship,” point guard Tony Parker said. “I don’t really think about having a good regular season, how many games we won. It doesn’t matter, because at the end of the day, the only thing you remember is how many championships you won.”

Manu Ginobili hadn’t played since March 25, as the club deactivated him for matchups on Saturday and Monday at Oklahoma City and Memphis. Ginobili’s last extended rest came in February as the result of testicular surgery, which kept him out of 12 games. Upon return from that setback, Ginobili racked up a season-high 22 points in 15 minutes. After this latest two-game rest, Ginobili came back to the lineup and lit up the Pelicans on 5 of 6 from 3-point range for another 20-point night while tying Leonard for the team high in steals at three.

San Antonio faces Toronto, Golden State and Oklahoma City in its next three home games.

Parker said earlier in the week that he doesn’t expect Popovich to play all the front-line players in either of the remaining matchups against the Warriors (April 7 and April 10). Parker reiterated that point at Wednesday’s shootaround and said it “doesn’t matter to me” when asked about the importance of the club’s current home streak.

Ginobili echoed those sentiments.

“No, it really doesn’t [matter],” Ginobili said. “If we would have lost Game 24, and now we are 37-1, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. Having a 38-game streak or 37-1 is unbelievable, anyway. So I really don’t care about streaks. We know we are having a great season. If we would have lost one more or two more, it wouldn’t change that.”


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich talks after the Spurs’ win Wednesday

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Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls’ season on the brink | Blake Griffin’s return date set | Heat want to keep Whiteside, even with price rising | Kobe plans on playing final nine games

No. 1: Bulls’ season on the brink — Three straight losses to sub .500 teams has caused a panic in Chicago, where the hometown Bulls have been struggling with consistency all season. But a team meeting before Sunday’s practice and tonight’s game against the Atlanta Hawks (8 ET, NBA TV) exposed some issues that have plagued the team all season. With their season on the brink, the Bulls finally cleared the air, writes Vince Goodwill of CSNChicago.com:

There’s been a lot of talk and rhetoric in this underwhelming Bulls’ season to date, but perhaps there hasn’t been enough honest and raw communication between the principle parties as things have gone south.

To that end, there was a team meeting before Sunday morning’s practice, following their third straight loss to a sub .500 team, the latest a drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

There didn’t appear to be any furniture moving or expletive-filled rants by the coaching staff or the players, which one can interpret myriad ways.

“We did get together and talk. That was a big part of what today was about, getting in there and talking about some things and hopefully airing some things out,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We came out and competed. We got after it in practice, not for long stretches because of our upcoming schedule. But I thought it was a productive day.”

As for the meeting, it seemed to have a measured tone, not necessarily one where guys got after each other for mishaps and mistakes, but presumably there was an air of responsibility for the current state of affairs.

“I don’t know about angry. I think just disappointed,” forward Mike Dunleavy said. “I think we feel like we can play better and win more games. I don’t think we’re a 60-win team or anything, but I think we should have some more wins right now, and probably be in a better position to get into the playoffs. But we are where we are, and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Hoiberg termed the meeting “productive”, but with the schedule turning more treacherous and the Bulls having squandered a huge opportunity to close the gap on Detroit and Indiana, one has to wonder if it’s too little, too late.

“As always happens in those type of meetings, yeah,” said Hoiberg when asked if voices were raised. “You talk about things and obviously we have a lot to correct right now. We had a three-game win streak and the last three have been very poor performances by our team to say the least. I think it had to be done. And again, I thought it was productive.”


VIDEO: The Game Time crew tackles what’s going on in Chicago

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Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs come out flat vs. Nets | George injures leg vs. Pacers | Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses

No. 1: Cavs come out flat in loss to Nets — Some nights in the NBA, it’s just not your night — no matter how good your team may be. At a cursory glance, that might be the storyline as the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers lost on the road to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, 104-95. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com was on hand for the defeat and notes that despite an otherworldly performance from LeBron James, the Cavs showed troubling signs in the loss:

On Thursday evening at Barclays Center, the rebuilding, interim coach-led 20-win Brooklyn Nets defeated a disinterested, lifeless Central Division champion Cleveland Cavaliers squad 104-95.

“Tonight we took a step backwards and we can’t afford to do that late in the season like this,” James said after scoring 30 points on 13-of-16 from the field. He converted his first 11 field goals and was a nightmare to deal with as he got inside the paint whenever he wanted.

He was asked if he took what the defense gave him.

“It’s what I took,” he quickly replied. “They didn’t give me anything. That’s what I took.”

It’s too bad James’ moody, locked-in demeanor didn’t rub off on his teammates. Excluding his performance, the rest of the Cavaliers shot 36.6 percent from the field and was 10-of-38 from the arc. Cleveland was down nine with 2:01 remaining and could not find the basket for the life of them. Before Jordan McRae made a meaningless three-pointer with nine seconds left, the Cavaliers had missed 10 straight shots and mustered all of nine points in the period.

Kevin Love (11) was 5-of-14 and had a dreadful 0-5 outing from long distance while Kyrie Irving (13 points) missed 16 of his 22 shots. For the second time in less than a week, he skipped out on speaking to the media.

Bad shooting nights happen and it’s excused. But what isn’t excusable is lacking a professional approach. Despite head coach Tyronn Lue urging his team to not take the court with a complacent attitude, that’s exactly what occurred.

They came out lackadaisical and entitled. Their passes weren’t zipped, but rather floated and telegraphed. What was supposed to be hard cuts to the basket looked like pre-game walk-through drills. Lue walked away from his postgame presser disgusted with how his team performed.

“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” he said.

“I started my postseason mindset a little early this year, understanding everything we’ve been through this year both on and off the floor,” James said. “I just want these guys to understand how important this moment is. We have a great opportunity to do something special, at least compete for something special.”

There’s a sad truth. In the three games Love has sat out this month, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.3 points. Moreover, opposing point guards seem to have a field day when going up against Irving.

Shane Larkin entered the game averaging six points and four assists, but left the arena with 16 points, seven assists and was 7-of-10 from the floor. It’s a trend that keeps repeating with quick guards against Irving.

“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have,” James said. “And that’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I understand the moment that we have and it’s not a given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

Time is running out.

Flipping the switch seems like a dubious path to victory. There have been too many bad losses. Over time, it’s a pattern, and patterns are hard to break.


VIDEO: LeBron James says the Cavs ‘took a step backwards’ on Thursday

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Morning shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr won’t keep Warriors from chasing 73 | Young Jazz get big win on road | LeBron discusses his behavior with coach, GM | Casey won’t risk players’ health for No. 1 seed

No. 1: Kerr won’t stop Warriors from chasing 73 — As the Golden State Warriors have rolled through the 2015-16 season, their success has been compared against that of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who set the NBA single-season record for wins. That Chicago crew amassed 72 wins and Golden State is more than on pace to break that mark. Yet questions remained about whether or not coach Steve Kerr (a reserve on that 1995-96 Bulls team) would led the Warriors pursue the mark … or rest his players for another Finals push. Wonder no more, writes Tim Kawakami of The Mercury News, as both Kerr and star Stephen Curry backed the team’s push for history:

The Warriors are going for 73 regular-season victories — to top the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who went 72-10 — on their way to an attempt at repeat championships.

Because: Why not?

After weeks of hints and evasions, coach Steve Kerr and star Stephen Curry all but made the official announcement in the hours before Wednesday night’s 114-98 victory over the Clippers at Oracle Arena.

That performance raised the Warriors’ overall record to 64-7, their home record to 33-0 (no team has ever gone undefeated at home for a full regular season) and put an exclamation point on their grand stretch-run plans.

It’s all out there, and the Warriors are no longer going to pretend they don’t know it or want it.

“Now we’re right there,” Kerr said before the game. “That’s pretty enticing.

“It’s really the players’ record. I know they want to get it. So we’ll act accordingly.”

The Warriors’ immediate priority is to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the playoffs, and the Warriors still have to keep winning games to fend off San Antonio.

And most of all, obviously, the Warriors want to maximize their chances to win back-to-back titles.

A more cautious team — a less historic team — might find a game or two of rest Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green over the next handful of games.

There are risks to going after a record that guarantees them nothing for the playoffs.

So stipulated.

But if they’re all feeling good over these next few weeks, the motivation is clear: The Warriors need nine more victories with 11 to play, and it’s right there for them.

The larger point is that this epic season has been fueled by pure competitive fire, and now that the Warriors are on the brink of history, why would they throttle it down now that it’s tangible?

“It’s probably a different answer for each person,” Curry said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday, “but this is probably a good checkpoint.

“Going 10-2 for us is kind of on pace for what we’ve been doing all season.”

“Yeah, this whole idea of setting a record does make things a little trickier,” Kerr said. “It’s the players who are setting a record. It’s not the organization. It’s the players who are doing it.

“So they will absolutely have some say in matters down the stretch in terms of how we approach everything.”

“For us, we don’t want to limp into the playoffs,” Curry said. “We want to continue to play better and fine-tune on both sides of the ball, our execution.

“We want to continue to establish winning habits and a winning mentality as you go into the playoffs.

“Whatever it takes to motivate us at this point, whether it’s just continue what we’ve been doing, searching for that 73, No. 1 seed, whatever it is.”

Also, Curry added: “Sitting out and watching is just boring. I don’t like watching games if you have the opportunity to play in them.”


VIDEO: Golden State tramples the Los Angeles Clippers for win No. 64

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Morning shootaround — March 17


VIDEO: Highlights from Wednesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors head on road looking sharp | New images of Bucks’ proposed arena unveiled | Bulls’ Gasol to miss more games | Waiters returns to OKC lineup

No. 1: Warriors embark on road trip looking sharp — The Golden State Warriors haven’t lost a game since a March 6 slip-up on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers. Since then, they’ve won six in a row — all of them in the friendly confines of Oracle Arena — as they ready for a three-game road trip (highlighted by a Saturday showdown with San Antonio on ABC). As they get ready to leave town, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle points out that last night’s win against the New York Knicks might have been one of the Warriors’ most complete efforts in a while:

When this week’s defensive assignments were rattled off to Draymond Green, he said: “Man, tough, right?”

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that Green actually was talking about how tough it was going to be on his opponents.

A game after helping limit Anthony Davis to 6-for-20 shooting, Green made New York’s 7-foot-3 rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis a non-factor during a 1-for-11 shooting performance that allowed the Warriors to run away with a 121-85 victory Wednesday night at Oracle Arena.

“I thought Draymond was brilliant,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “A great night for him. He was passing the ball, rebounding, defending and taking care of the ball. … He sees the game. He knows what’s happening at all times. Tonight was a fantastic game for him.”

Green had six points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Warriors outscored the Knicks by 31 points in his 29 minutes.

Of course, these Warriors aren’t about individual accolades. They’re chasing team history.

The Warriors (61-6) have won an NBA-record 50 straight regular-season home games and remained a game ahead of the pace of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, who won a single-season-record 72 games.

“History,” Warriors reserve big man Marreese Speights said. “We keep making history. Everything we do from now on is history.”

After a blip in Los Angeles on March 6, the Warriors resolutely marched through a 6-0 homestand, settling their play and monitoring minutes just in time for a three-game trek to Dallas, San Antonio and Minnesota.

“That was probably our most complete game in a while,” point guard Stephen Curry said. “Forty-eight minutes of complete focus.”

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Butler, Mayo and Cousins in NBA’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ matinee


Since it’s Throwback Thursday on social media, we might as well throw it all the way back to that iconic 1966 “spaghetti Western” starring a young Clint Eastwood and directed by Italy’s Sergio Leone that has become a favorite of headline writers and those trading in triplets of all sorts.

In fairly rapid succession Thursday afternoon, the NBA produced news that broke down along the lines of “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.”

First “the Good:”

This is good news in a macro sense because anytime an All-Star player learns that an injury is less severe than initially feared, fans across the NBA should feel relieved, if not rejoice. It’s good news for the Chicago Bulls at the micro level, though, because any hope that team has of righting itself in time for a serious playoff run in the East bracket requires the services of Jimmy Butler. Here is more detail from Mike McGraw, Bulls beat guy for the suburban Chicago Daily Herald:

Butler, who missed 11 games with a left knee strain, made a successful return last Saturday in a win over Houston, but experienced swelling in the knee after the game. He sat out Monday’s victory over Milwaukee and will not be with the team when the Bulls play tonight at San Antonio. It’s not yet clear whether Butler might play in Friday’s home game against Miami.

Butler has had two MRI exams on his left knee, so structural damage wasn’t the concern when the all-star shooting guard chose to get an opinion from Dr. [James] Andrews. The Bulls have 20 games left to secure a playoff spot. As of Thursday morning, they were in eighth place in the East, a few percentage points ahead of Detroit.

 

Next came “the Bad,” lousy news that even ruthless Lee Van Cleef would Tweet “SMH” over:

The Bucks issues a release quoting general manager John Hammond and stating that Mayo suffered the fracture when he tripped down some stairs at his home. Milwaukee’s backcourt situation already was injury-riddled, with Michael Carter-Williams shut down for hip surgery and Greivis Vasquez sidelined by ankle surgery. Reporter Shams Charnia of Yahoo! Sports’ The Vertical fleshed out Mayo’s predicament:

Mayo, 28, sustained the injury this week and surgery is a possibility, sources said.
Mayo … has averaged 7.8 points, 2.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 41 games (24 starts).

He is in the final season of a three-year contract he signed with Milwaukee in 2013.

 

That left – cue the mournful harmonica music of maestro Ennio Morricone – “the Ugly,” provided not surprisingly by the Sacramento Kings and chief migraine-inducer DeMarcus Cousins:

As if Cousins picking up his 15th technical foul of the season wasn’t disruptive enough in Sacramento’s home loss to Cleveland Thursday, the big man appeared to berate head coach George Karl during a timeout in the fourth quarter. Witnesses said Cousins was upset that Karl hadn’t argued foul calls on his behalf.

James Ham, Kings Insider for CSNBayArea.com, offered some context to Cousin’s one-game rip for conduct detrimental to the team:

[Kings GM] Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings have put their foot down. … Video was captured of Cousins yelling at the 64-year-old Karl during a timeout.

At one point Rudy Gay and assistant coach Corliss Williamson tried to intervene, and finally point guard Rajon Rondo stepped in between the two as they both sat in a team huddle on the sidelines.

The Kings are mired in a tough stretch over which the team has gone just 1-7 and watch their playoff hopes fade. Tension has been high as the Kings head towards their 10th straight lottery season. Cousins picked up his 15th technical foul during the game for arguing a call and he was in no mood to talk after the game.

This suspension comes on the heels of Karl informing the media late Wednesday that he will miss Thursday’s practice due to a cancer related procedure.

 

Before we leave this film classic, let’s give it the credit it deserves for Eli Wallach‘s character, Tuco, offering a bit of invaluable basketball advice: “When you have to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”

 

Butler seeks second opinion on knee

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Chicago Bulls are on their way to San Antonio to face the Spurs on Thursday. But their season may hinge on a trip to Alabama.

That’s where Jimmy Butler is heading to visit Dr. James Andrews, looking for a second opinion on a left knee issue that has kept him out of 12 of the Bulls’ last 13 games.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune has the story

Coach Fred Hoiberg said the swelling has subsided enough in Butler’s knee for him to get a workout in late Tuesday and also get up some shots during Wednesday’s light practice. But there also is cause for concern given pain is lingering and Butler didn’t respond well to playing one game after missing the previous 11 to an injury originally suffered on Feb. 5 in Denver.

“He’s just got a little bit of pain on the back of that knee and we just want to be safe with it,” Hoiberg said.

Butler wasn’t made available to reporters. Hoiberg said it was Butler’s idea to seek the second opinion.

“Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea to go down there and just get an opinion from one of the top doctors in the world,” Hoiberg said.

The Bulls said the latest exam from their own team physician, Brian Cole, revealed nothing structurally wrong with the knee.

The Bulls are 5-8 without Butler this season and have been outscored by 3.8 points per 100 possessions (the mark of a bottom-five team) with him off the floor. E’Twaun Moore started in Butler’s place in Monday’s win vs. Milwaukee.

The Bulls are just a half game ahead of the Detroit Pistons for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The two teams will meet for a final time in Chicago on April 2, with Detroit holding a 2-1 lead in the season series.

Morning shootaround — March 9


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry happy with how Warriors are handling historic season | Durant denies Finals-or-free agency talk | Anthony all-in for 2016 Olympic Games

No. 1: Curry likes how Warriors are handling chase for 73 wins — The Golden State Warriors have just 20 games left in their regular-season campaign and need just 17 wins in that stretch to surpass the all-time, single-season wins mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. From a 24-0 start to today, the buzz has grown about whether or not the Warriors could pass that 73-win mark and Golden State’s coaches and players have done their best to address those questions without letting the chase for 73 overtake the season too much. Warriors star Stephen Curry talked on SportsCenter yesterday about how he is pleased with the team’s approach to chasing such a historic mark:

Stephen Curry likes how his team has handled the pressure that goes along with trying to catch Michael Jordan‘s 1995-96 Bulls team, which went 72-10 on its way to a championship.

“When you go 24-0 your imagination just kind of goes crazy after that — how many wins can we get? But I think we’ve done a very good job of — and this is very cliché obviously — but taking it one game at a time and that’s how we’ve gotten to this point,” Curry said Tuesday on SportsCenter. “Twenty-four and 0 was a crazy, remarkable start that set NBA history. The way we’ve played at home, not having dropped a game and just our overall level of play — we like where we are. We feel like we can get better; we haven’t really played our best of late and that’s a good challenge for us to find our A-plus game as we finish off this season.”

Entering Tuesday’s games, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gave the Warriors a 35.6 percent chance of winning 73 games. Although they have to face the San Antonio Spurs three more times, the Warriors play 14 of their final 20 games at Oracle Arena, where they have gone 66-2 over the past two regular seasons, including an NBA-record 45 straight wins, set Monday against the Magic.

“Last year we were 67-15 and we played at a pretty high level all year. … Even if we didn’t get to 67 wins there was still the potential for us to have a better season and be a better team,” Curry said. “But right now with 20 games left we obviously know what’s at stake. We’ve just got to stay in the moment and enjoy it. This is a fun time and we’re chasing history so we’ve got to be confident in who we are.”


VIDEO: Warriors.com looks at what makes the ‘Splash Bros.’ so special

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Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: Recap Saturday night’s eight-game slate

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jimmy Butler returns | Beal injured | Mohammed: “I’m back” | Krause retires

No. 1: Jimmy Butler returns After missing ten games with a knee injury — during which his Chicago Bulls posted a 3-7 record — Jimmy Butler returned to action last night against the Houston Rockets. Butler picked up where he left off, as the Bulls got a much-needed win. As ESPN’s Nick Friedell writes, for a Bulls team clinging to postseason hopes, Butler’s return should be crucial…

Jimmy Butler didn’t miss a beat in the box score during Saturday’s much-needed 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. After missing a month because of a left knee strain, the All-Star swingman racked up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists to help the Chicago Bulls snap a four-game losing streak. Butler did everything the Bulls needed him to do. He was solid defensively while guarding James Harden, and he gave the Bulls the scoring punch they’ve been lacking without him. But after the game ended, the proud 26-year-old knew there was something missing from his game that wouldn’t appear within the gaudy numbers.

“I need to get in there and run some laps,” Butler said. “I’m out of shape.”

It didn’t matter that Butler was winded. He gave the Bulls what he had when they needed a win to right their dwindling season. With Butler back and Nikola Mirotic reappearing after missing over a month because of complications related to an appendectomy, the Bulls finally appeared almost whole in a season in which their starting five of Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Butler had yet to play a game together all season. It’s no wonder why Gasol called Butler’s and Mirotic’s presence the lineup “critical.” Butler set an example early that the rest of his teammates followed.

“Jimmy makes a huge impact on both ends of the floor,” Gasol said. “Especially on the defensive end. His physicality and his activity and energy make a big difference because it kind of picks everybody up as well and sets a tone for the rest of the guys.”

Aside from Butler’s return, the key for the Bulls is that they found a team in the Rockets that’s even more dysfunctional than they are. Watching the Rockets make mistake after mistake was similar to watching the way the Bulls have played many times during the season. The teams combined for 43 turnovers, 25 of which came from the Bulls.

That’s why any optimism coming from the Bulls’ locker room has to be tempered by the fact that Chicago beat a team even more underwhelming than itself. The good news for Fred Hoiberg‘s beleaguered group: With 21 games left, Butler has the ability to serve as a stabilizer for a team that still talks about making a push into the playoffs. Butler’s return gives the Bulls something they haven’t had much of in weeks — hope.

“It’s huge,” Rose said of Butler’s return. “Whenever he’s got the ball, you got to stick both of us. It’s hard to pay attention to both of us when we’re on the court. And we get to catch the ball with a live dribble so that helps the team out a lot.”

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No. 2: Beal injured — Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal has consistently been counted among the NBA’s most promising young players. For Beal, though, injuries have seemed to consistently hinder him from taking that next step. After breaking his nose in January, Beal had been playing with a protective face mask. But last night, after finally being able to take off the mask, Beal suffered a pelvis injury. As Jorge Castillo writes in the Washington Post, for a Wizards team fighting for a playoff berth, a healthy Beal is necessary…

He helped the Wizards record 64 first-half points in the crucial matchup between teams vying for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Then the evening went askew.

The fourth-year sharpshooter exited with 6 minutes 17 seconds left in third quarter of the Wizards’ gut-wrenching 100-99 loss, after falling hard on his right hip when he collided with Pacers big man Myles Turner at the basket. Beal remained on the floor in agony for a couple minutes and needed assistance walking off to the locker room.

Beal, 22, was diagnosed with a sprained pelvis and didn’t return. He declined to speak to the media after the game and the team didn’t have an update on his status. Beal has missed 21 games this season because a shoulder injury, a stress reaction in his right fibula and a concussion.

Washington’s second-leading scorer, Beal is expected to travel with the team to Portland Monday for Washington’s three-game road trip, but whether he will play Tuesday against the Trail Blazers is uncertain. Garrett Temple would return to the starting lineup if Beal is ruled out. Temple tallied 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting in 26 minutes Saturday, shooting 24.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from three-point range. He has also shot 58.3 percent from the free throw line in his 10 starts since the break.

Gary Neal missed his 12th straight game Saturday with a right leg injury that he described as neurological. But the team, he said, was still unsure exactly what is wrong.

The firepower Washington holds with Beal in the starting lineup was evident Saturday as the Wizards posted 37 points in the first quarter. Beal finished 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting in 24 minutes before departing.

“We had gotten off to such slow starts the last couple games, I think we were down 12 in the first quarter in Minnesota,” Coach Randy Wittman said, referring to the Wizards’ win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday. “Just trying to get a better start and we did.”

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No. 3: Mohammed: “I’m back” — The Oklahoma City Thunder had an open roster spot, and to fill that open slot, they went after NBA veteran Nazr Mohammed, who they had to lure out of what he called “semi-retirement.” In a first-person piece written by Mohammed, he explains why he returned, and what he thinks his role will be with the Thunder…

It’s official. “I’m back.” I’ve always wanted to say that…like I’m MJ or something LOL. I’m officially back in an NBA jersey, and I could not be more excited for this opportunity.

You may not have noticed that I have been in what I call semi-retirement. And by the way, I’ve been calling it semi-retirement for two reasons. The first is that a 37-year-old professional athlete doesn’t really retire; we just transition to our next careers. The second reason being that in pro sports, most of us actually “get retired,” either because the phone is no longer ringing for your services or you’re no longer able to accept playing for just any team. As a young player, your only desire is to be in the NBA. As you get older, your desire is to play for certain organizations with certain circumstances, making it a little tougher to find the right fit. Mine was a combination of all of the above. Most of the teams that I had interest in didn’t need my services, and I didn’t have the desire to go just anywhere. And some teams just didn’t want me.

With all that being said – DRUMROLL PLEASE – I am now a proud member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the very team I competed for a Championship with in 2012. I was days away from turning “semi-retirement” into full retirement when I received word from Sam Presti that they had interest in me returning to OKC as a player. That quickly changed the course of my plans and forced me to do some real soul-searching to see if this was something my family and I wanted.

I believe in staying prepared for the opportunities that I think I want, whether they come to fruition or not. You can do no greater disservice to yourself than to secretly want something, but then be unprepared if the opportunity presents itself. I stayed prepared, but when I didn’t foresee any viable opportunities coming my way during “buyout season,” I contemplated shutting down my court workouts and facing the reality that my life as a basketball player was over. I started seriously considering accepting and starting one of my post-career opportunities. I even agreed with Debbie Spander of Wasserman Media Group to represent me if I chose to pursue broadcasting as my next career. But my agent, Michael Higgins, suggested that I give it a few more days to evaluate the landscape.

Like I said, I had a short list of teams that I would undoubtedly come out of semi-retirement for. Of course OKC was on my short list, which consisted mostly of teams I played for in the past. When I spoke to the Thunder, their first question was, “How does your body feel?” Anybody who follows me on social media knows that I’m probably a little addicted to my workouts. I’ve kept up my same training regimen (court work three to five times a week, conditioning, and lifting weights) with my guys at Accelerate Basketball, so I knew I was prepared physically. They happen to train Steph Curry too, so you know my jumper is wet right now LOL! After being a part of two NBA lockouts, I’m the master of staying prepared even when I don’t know when my season will start LOL. But the first thing I thought about was my family and whether or not they could handle me being away for the next few months when we were just getting acclimated to a new city and our new schedule (which had me as a big part of it for the first time in my kids’ lives). I knew I needed to talk to them before making a final decision. Regardless, I was shocked, flattered and excited for an opportunity to go into a comfortable situation.

I brought the offer to my wife and kids to see how they felt. My oldest son (10) is an OKC fan, so he was excited. And I better add that he’s a Steph Curry and Jimmy Butler fan too (he’d be mad if I didn’t include that!). My oldest daughter (13) was almost giddy with excitement for me. I’m starting to think they don’t love having me around, but I’ll save that for another blog down the road LOL. I also have a younger daughter (6), and she was very happy, although I’m not sure she truly grasps time and how long I will be gone. My wife, who knows how much basketball has meant to me, was very supportive. We’ve experienced mid-year trades and things like this before, so we know how to handle it. The only difference now is that the kids are older, and their schedules are a little more hectic with school, sports, practices, tournaments, etc. Now with me not being able to help out with that, more is on my wife’s plate. But we’ll figure it out. Whenever we get a day off, I’ll probably try to fly home, even if I just get to see the family for a few hours. We’ll do a lot of FaceTiming. When their schedule permits, they’ll be flying to OKC. We’ll make it work.

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No. 4: Krause retires — The Warriors have been trying to put together the greatest regular season in NBA history, topping the 72-10 record of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. That Bulls team was constructed by general manager Jerry Krause, who this week announced he was retiring from scouting at the age of 76. K.C. Johnson from the Chicago Tribune caught up with Krause and heard some great stories, particularly about Michael Jordan and those Bulls…

Nicknamed “The Sleuth,” Krause’s second stint leading the Bulls didn’t start promisingly either despite inheriting Michael Jordan, whom Rod Thorn had drafted.

In Stan Albeck, he whiffed on his first coaching hire. And Jordan broke a bone in his left foot in the third game of the 1985-86 season, leading to the first of many spats between him and Krause when Jordan wanted to play sooner than he was ready. Krause, Jerry Reinsdorf and doctors ordered a more conservative approach.

“Do I regret that I had not a great relationship with him? You know what? We won a lot of (expletive) games,” Krause said. “Right or wrong, when I took that job I thought the worst thing I could do is kiss that guy’s (rear). We’d argue. But I remember about two years after I traded Charles (Oakley) for Bill (Cartwright). He and Charles were as tight as can be. He called over to me at practice and said, ‘That trade you made was a pretty damn good trade.’ I just looked at him and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Krause replaced Albeck with Doug Collins, a surprising hire given Collins had no coaching experience. It worked, and, augmented by the dominant 1987 draft that netted Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, the Bulls kept knocking on the Pistons’ door.

When they lost to Detroit in six games in the 1989 Eastern Conference finals, Krause and Reinsdorf stunningly replaced Collins with Phil Jackson. Krause had hired Jackson as an assistant coach — one of his two Hall of Fame coaching hires along with Tex Winter — out of relative obscurity from the Continental Basketball Association.

“Everyone thought I was nuts,” Krause said. “I had a feeling about Phil. He has an amazing ability to relate to players.”

Jackson’s first season produced more heartbreak, a seven-game loss to the Pistons in the 1990 Eastern finals. Two days later, Krause said he walked into the Berto Center and almost the entire team was there, working with strength and conditioning coach Al Vermeil.

“I knew right then that we weren’t going to lose to the Pistons again,” Krause said.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James passed Tim Duncan to move into 14th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list … Eric Gordon broke his right ring finger for the second time since January … Manu Ginobili returned from injury and scored a season-high 22 points, as the Spurs went to 30-0 at home … The Phoenix Suns are reportedly targeting Chase Budinger … While it’s not a full update on his status, Chris Bosh says he’s feeling goodChris Andersen says he’ll always remember his time in Miami … During a concert in Oakland this weekend, Prince gave a shoutout to Steph Curry


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