Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Butler’

Bulls’ Butler a high-volatility stock


VIDEO: Butler plays preseason hero against Hawks

Asterisks abounded Thursday night, when Jimmy Butler went vintage-Derrick Rose – or one-off-Michael Jordan – down the stretch against the Atlanta Hawks.

* Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau had starters, including Butler, on the floor late in the Bulls’ mostly dismal performance.

* His Atlanta counterpart, Mike Budenholzer, was rolling with third-string Hawks.

* Rose, the Bulls player who would normally be called upon at such a point, was on the bench (prompting some predictable hand-wringing from critics who aren’t happy when the point guard plays a lot or when he plays a little).

* It still was the preseason.

* And Butler is in the midst of a salary drive, his performances this month potentially out of character, with the real impact of deal-or-no-deal in his contract extension talks to be determined later.

Still, the Bulls shooting guard did score 29 points – one more than his career high in three NBA seasons – in his team’s scramble back from 21 points to win. Butler got 20 of those in the final 5:11, an explosive stretch that might have been aided by the various asterisks but explosive nonetheless.

He did it, too, in ways that made the worriers feel a little better about Butler’s offense – no one questions his defensive effort or effectiveness – at a position where Chicago needs more oomph. Butler, who shot 39.7 percent from the floor (28.3 percent on 3-pointers), dramatically beat the buzzer from 26 feet in good form. He wound up shooting 8-for-14 and 12-for-16 from the line (9-for-11 in the fourth), and got some big love from teammates.

“We always tell him to take more [shots], but it’s going to be up to him to break that seal,” Rose said. “Thank God that he’s catching his rhythm right now and he’s building his confidence. He’s another threat offensively.”

Not last year, he wasn’t. But Thibodeau played Butler long minutes anyway, for his defense, out of need and in spite of distractions coming at the wing player from Marquette. Butler battled injuries early, played only eight games with Rose before the point guard went down again, then had his role tweaked after the Bulls traded veteran small forward Luol Deng in January.

“Jimmy has grown,” Thibodeau said Thursday night. “He’s more a scorer than to characterize him as a straight shooter. He’s an all-around scorer. He’ll find ways to put the ball in the basket.”

Butler, though you’d wonder where it came from, is said to have arrived at camp 10 pounds lighter. He looks more athletic and clearly has been more aggressive, leading Chicago after five October games with 18.6 points, 60.4 field-goal shooting, 43 free throw attempts and 144 total minutes.

“All summer I worked on my game. The biggest thing is confidence, taking shots I know I can make,” he said.

So, salary drive? Butler has two weeks left to land, per NBA rookie-scale rules, the contract extension available to players heading into their fourth seasons. Two years ago, Bulls forward Taj Gibson felt preseason pressure while his talks played out, and though he got his deal (four years, $33 million), the episode seemed to bleed into a subpar season. Butler has some folks wondering if he might go the other way if he gets paid – throttling back – or be adversely affected if he doesn’t get the extension done.

He said Thursday it hasn’t been a distraction. “Nope. Not at all,” Butler said. “I just try to play the game the right way. The whole contract situation is up to my agent (Happy Walters) and the Bulls organization. I just want to win games. Then the contract will take care of itself, whenever.”

And however much. The market for Butler figures to be as hot as it is fluid. Chicago reportedly would like to sign him now for what’s becoming called “Taj money,” close to Gibson’s 2012 extension. Butler might be anchored more by the three-year, $30 million, take-it-or-leave-it offer the Bulls put in front of Deng before trading him.

Then there’s the unpredictable marketplace of free agency, even with restrictions, should Butler get that far. Gordon Hayward landed his four-year, $63 million max deal that way – offer sheet from Charlotte, matched by Utah – and Chandler Parsons scored a three-year, $46 million contract with Dallas. And if Butler, who will make $2 million this season, were to play this out twice on a year-by-year basis, he would hit the unrestricted marked in 2016 as the new bonanza of TV rights cash officially kicks in.

Bulls VP of basketball John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, who will already have $50 million committed to four players next season (Rose, Gibson, Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol), won’t have Thibodeau at the bargaining table, that’s for sure. The coach who has leaned hard on Butler for two years will look to him even more.

Chicago added shooters over the summer but after Rose, Butler is the best choice to put real pressure on opponents, getting to the rim, getting to the line, throwing himself around to wreak havoc and create energy on nights when there’s none, like Thursday. With Deng’s departure, he is the defender who will draw the toughest assignments, the only one Thibodeau trusts to check other guys’ most potent scorers.

Butler was drafted last in the first round in 2011 and still sounds like an absolute underdog. “I’m from Tomball, [Texas],” he said earlier this week. “I’m not even supposed to be in the NBA, let alone be a star player. I just want to be wanted. I just want to play hard. I just want to help [us] win. End of story. Star player, role player, bench player, whatever it takes. Just let me win.”

Oh, Butler definitely is going to win, either with the Bulls or someone else. In this case, the victory will be noted not by a ‘W’ or an * but by a bunch of $’s.

New Wizards-Bulls feud couldn’t wait


VIDEO: Scuffle leads to suspensions, fines for Wizards, Bulls

CHICAGO – Randy Wittman didn’t think much of the question. Not nearly as much of it as I did, for instance, seeing as how I was the one who asked it Monday night: Would the bad blood and feistiness of the Washington Wizards’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls carry over to the preseason opener for both teams?

“In an exhibition?” Wittman, the Wizards coach, said with a chuckle. “You need a storyline, huh?”

We got a storyline that night. And we got another one Wednesday afternoon, when the NBA announced that four of Wittman’s players were suspended for one game for leaving the bench area during an altercation between Washington’s Paul Pierce and Chicago’s Joakim Noah in the first quarter Monday at United Center.

In the first quarter. Of, yes, an exhibition.

Additionally, Pierce and Noah were fined $15,000 each for their roles in the scuffle. A scuffle that didn’t realize, apparently, that it was supposed to wait another month or so.

“Obviously once we get going and the season winds in here, those things play out,” Wittman had said about 90 minutes before Monday’s tipoff. “Not so much a game like this where a lot of people will be playing, the lineups will be different… I’m sure when it rolls around to November, that will be a little bit different.”

The next round, er, game between the Wizards and the Bulls will be in Washington on Dec. 23, the first of four regular-season meetings in a simmering new rivalry.

Wittman’s instincts must not have been in championship-season shape yet, because things boiled over Monday with 8:57 left in the opening quarter.

Pierce fouled Chicago’s Jimmy Butler hard across the jaw. While the referees gathered to review the play as a flagrant or common foul, Pierce and Noah exchanged words and Noah pushed at the veteran forward. Pierce reacted by poking a finger into Noah’s forehead, which sparked an NBA version of a baseball fight.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was on Boston’s staff when Pierce and the Celtics won a championship in 2008 and has been Noah’s coach since 2010, found himself smack in the middle like a pro wrestling ref dwarfed by the combatants. Chicago fans reacted like it was a Bears or Blackhawks game.

“It was great,” Noah said after the game. “It got all the summer out of me. It feels good to be back on the court.”

That was the problem for Washington: Nene, DeJuan Blair, Daniel Orton and Xavier Silas all left their team’s bench area and moved in the direction of the skirmish at the scorer’s table. That brought the automatic suspensions from NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn. They will be served in the Wizards’ season opener or the first regular season game in which each player is physically able to play.

Pierce wasn’t around for the playoff clash last spring, but he and the Bulls didn’t much like each other in his Boston or Brooklyn days, either.

“That’s just the tension between these two teams that’s kind of now carrying over to this year, I feel like,” Pierce said. “I’m a part of it now. Even when I was with the Celtics, that’s how I was with them.”

At the end of the third quarter, Washington’s Kevin Seraphin set a hard screen on Butler and was called for an offensive foul. He stood over the fallen Bulls player for a beat too long, in Butler’s opinion, prompting more shoves.

It was hard not to connect the dots back to last spring and the teams’ heated first-round series. Noah and a member of the Wizards’ security team had a testy exchange at the morning shootaround before Game 3 in Washington. That night, Nene and Butler literally butted heads in an on-court confrontation, with the Wizards’ big man getting ejected and suspended from Game 4.

Then there was the fact the Wizards eliminated the Bulls in five games. It was a sign of Washington’s ascendancy with its precocious backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, while at the same time abruptly ending another season Chicago had begun, at least, with hopes of title contention.

That’s why some folks anticipated chippiness Monday, preseason or not.

“Whatever it was, I guess that’s what it’s going to come down to every time we play them guys,” Butler said. “I guess guys just don’t like us. I’m cool if they don’t like me.”

Said Wall: “That lets you know how it’s going to be for the four times we play them in the regular season. It might get a lot worse than that.”

Grab your calendar now: Dec. 23, Jan. 9, Jan. 14 and March 3. Might as well circle the dates in red, since both teams will be seeing red.

Morning shootaround — July 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Reports: Cavs working to land Love; Bulls join fray? | Report: Mavs to meet with Nelson | Austin says he was offered job with NBA

No. 1: Reports: Bulls making push for Love as Cavs try to seal deal — Yesterday the Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz pulled off what on the surface seemed to be a minor deal: Cavs guard Carrick Felix heads to Utah in exchange for John Lucas III, Erik Murphy and Malcolm Thomas. But unless you’ve been living on another planet the last few weeks, that deal was done to give Cleveland more salary-cap flexibility so it can work out a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for All-Star big man Kevin Love. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst, the Cavs are confident they can pick up Love, but the Chicago Bulls are also trying to make a late push to get in on the Love sweepstakes:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are increasingly confident that they will eventually complete the acquisition of Kevin Love, but the Chicago Bulls are making a late push to try to get into the trade mix for the All-Star power forward, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Cavs firmly believe they are progressing toward a trade framework that the Minnesota Timberwolves will accept in exchange for Love and enable Cleveland to pair the versatile big man with Team USA teammate LeBron James.

Cleveland’s offer, sources said, would be headlined by No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, 2013’s No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future first-round pick, with one source close to the process insisting Tuesday that the Cavs are destined to acquire Love. At least one more player might have to added to the package to satisfy NBA trade rules.

Sources say that the Bulls, though, have re-entered the race and would appear to be the biggest threat to the Cavs thanks largely to the Golden State Warriors’ resolute unwillingness to add longtime Wolves target Klay Thompson in any deal.

Although the full extent of the Bulls’ offer wasn’t immediately known, it is believed Minnesota would seek a package from Chicago featuring forward Taj Gibson and defensive ace Jimmy Butler in addition to other assets. The Bulls shelved their Love interest while trying to sign Carmelo Anthony away from the New York Knicks but, according to sources, have re-emerged as contenders.

The Cavs, though, rocketed to the upper echelon of Love’s wish list of potential trade destinations from the moment James agreed to return to Cleveland. ESPN.com reported this month that even James’ short-term contract with the Cavs — which spans only two seasons and includes a player option to return to free agency next summer — would not dissuade Love from committing to Cleveland.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor insisted again last week that he wanted to keep Love and that Minnesota is prepared to open the season with Love on the roster. But sources say numerous rival teams think  that Minnesota will ultimately part with Love before the start of the new season, given the extremely public nature of Love’s unwillingness to commit to the Wolves beyond this season.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Cavs are solely focused on getting Love and are working hard to make that trade happen:

Cleveland has been determined to acquire Love since it signed LeBron James to a free-agent deal.

Those three players can be included in packages as preludes to a Love deal, or in a Love deal itself to give Minnesota salary-cap relief. The Cavaliers hold an interest in keeping Thomas, who could be an inexpensive role player to strengthen their frontcourt depth, sources said.

Cleveland has to be creative in solidifying a deal for Love, who the Timberwolves want to package with Kevin Martin and J.J. Barea, several front-office officials told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland’s discussions with Minnesota have escalated with the Cavaliers’ willingness to include No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins in the deal, sources said. Without Wiggins, there’s no other combination of Cleveland players and picks that would interest Minnesota. Once Wiggins signs his rookie contract, a trade involving him can’t be formally completed for 30 days.

The Denver Nuggets have remained a strong contender for Love, offering a package that sources said has been the most appealing to Minnesota outside of the Cavaliers and a possible Golden State deal including Klay Thompson. So far, the Warriors have kept Thompson out of their offer to Minnesota.

Minnesota wants a package for Love to include Barea, who has $4.5 million left on his expiring deal – and possibly Martin, who has three years and $21 million left. As part of a larger deal, the Cavaliers want to include 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett and a future No. 1 pick for Love.

The Cavaliers have been offering future first-round picks for an experienced center, league sources said.


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses the latest trade rumors involving Kevin Love

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

Westbrook eyes All-Defensive team

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Preparing for Heat-Spurs Finals clash

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook showed throughout the playoffs that when he puts his mind to it, with his quickness and size — 6-foot-3 and 200 rock-hard pounds — he can be an elite defender.

During the Oklahoma City Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday, one day after being eliminated from the Western Conference finals, Westbrook said the impact of his defense during the playoffs showed him he can bring a more intense disposition to that end of the floor more consistently.

He said he’s eyeing an All-Defensive team selection next season, even if he’s a bit miffed as to the criteria to qualify for the honor.

“The way the defensive team is made now,” Westbrook said through a series of chuckles, “it’s based on, I guess if you steal the ball, or, I don’t know how it’s made up because, to me, you know, there should be guys on the defensive team that should be on there; there’s guys that should not be on it. If people watch the games, then they will know those things.”

Westbrook’s comment came the day before the NBA announced its All-Defensive first and second teams. He didn’t name names, and it’s not known if he might have gotten an early glimpse at the selections. A three-time All-Star (who would have made it four consecutive appearances if not for a right knee injury) and a three-time All-NBA second-team selection, Westbrook has never made an All-Defensive team in his six seasons in the league.

This year he received just five total votes — fourth on his own team — with one for the first team. The voting panel consisted of 123 writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada. Teammate Serge Ibaka was named to the first team, Kevin Durant received 10 total votes with one for the first team and Thabo Sefolosha received eight votes, including one for the first team.

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul secured his sixth All-Defensive team appointment and his fourth — and third in a row — on the first team. Paul, who received the most votes among guards, happened to be the league-leader in steals (2.5 per game). Westbrook finished tied for fourth (1.9), which also tied his career-high from 2010-11.

Golden State Warriors wing Andre Iguodala (148 total votes, 57 first team) made his second appearance on the All-Defensive team and first on the first team.

Westbrook’s 2.16 steals per game in the playoffs was second to Paul’s 2.85, but Westbrook’s strong two-way play against the Clippers in the second round helped to knockout Paul in the second round.

“Coming out of college, I take it personally, coming in and defending every night based on who I’m guarding,” Westbrook said. “And obviously through the playoffs you can see it a lot more through [each] series. You can see how much it can impact the game, and I’m definitely going to make more of an effort. That has to start next year to go throughout the season.”

The two second-team guards were Chicago’s Jimmy Butler (29 first-team votes) and Westbrook nemesis Patrick Beverley (44 first-team votes) of the Rockets. He made the team for the first time in his second season.

Beverley careened into Westbrook’s right knee during the first round of last year’s playoffs trying to make a steal as Westbrook slowed up near the Thunder bench to call timeout. Westbrook tore his meniscus on the controversial play and was out for the remainder of the playoffs. Two additional surgeries were needed in early October and then late December, limiting him to 46 games this season.

It was easily the most challenging season of Westbrook’s career. He had never missed a regular-season game until the 2013-14 opener. After a quick return early in the the season, he was playing some of the best basketball of his career just prior to undergoing a third surgery days after Christmas. He returned after the All-Star break in late February and was on a minutes restriction up until the end of the regular season.

Westbrook, 25, still finished the regular season averaging 21.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He boosted each category during the playoffs, averaging 26.7, 8.1 and 7.3.

“Thinking positive thoughts take you a long way, I constantly say that,” Westbrook said. “You can easily be down on yourself when you have surgeries, injuries, have bad games, anything. You can easily think to yourself that you did something wrong or you can’t do it. And, you know, the whole time throughout the season — I’ve never been hurt — it was different for me, but I stayed positive.”

Now he plans to get defensive.

No-no Nene, but Wizards still confident

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nene suspended for one game after head-butt

WASHINGTON — It’s one thing to stand toe-to-toe against the raw physicality of the Bulls in the playoffs.

It’s a whole different challenge when you’re missing your big toe.

But with power forward Nene suspended by the NBA for head-butting and grabbing Jimmy Butler around the neck with both hands on Friday night, coach Randy Wittman says the Wizards are still on solid footing.

“We’re more than capable with who we have on this team,” he said a short time before the suspension was announced. “That’s just it. It could happen to anybody. … Somebody could come in sick and somebody’s gotta step up. That’s cliche, I know, but that’s the way it is.”

The Wizards had already completed their Saturday practice when the suspension was made official by Rod Thorn, NBA president, basketball operations.

Nene was unavailable for comment.

The incident occurred with 8:28 left in the fourth quarter of Chicago’s 100-97 win in Game 3, which sliced the Washington lead in the series to 2-1.

After scoring on a fast-break layup, Nene turned to run back up the court and lifted his left arm to clip Butler with a chicken wing as he ran by. Butler objected verbally and reached out with his right hand to give Nene a shove in the side.

As the two players stepped toward each other, the 6-foot-11 Nene leaned down and pressed his head against Butler’s. Then Nene clasped both of his hands around Butler’s neck.

When asked if he thought anything he saw merited a suspension, Wittman replied: “No, I don’t.”

Regardless, the Wizards have to play without their big man, who is averaging 17 points, 6.3 rebounds per game and has done an outstanding job of negating the play in the paint by the Bulls’ Joakim Noah.

The Wizards do have plenty experience playing without Nene as he missed 29 games during the regular season. Washington was 1-6 without him when Nene was shelved for two games with a strained left calf and five games with a sore right foot early in the season. But they were a more successful 12-10 without Nene in the lineup when he suffered a sprained left knee.

“Obviously, it’s gonna be a huge loss for us,” said center Marcin Gortat. “We played without Nene over the 82 games and the situation is totally different then. But we’ll see. We’ll see.

“You gotta bring it. You gotta bring it. There’s an opportunity for me to play bigger role. The inside offense is gonna go through me. I just gotta perform. I gotta be on top of my game.”

Wittman said the last thing he wants his team to do is react to the Game 3 incident by taking the edge off their game and backing down from Chicago’s rough-and-tumble style.

“I told our players, you can be confrontational and do it in a way that doesn’t cost you an ejection,” Wittman said. “We’ve seen it the first two games and nobody’s been thrown out. It’s a matter of making sure in those situations that you keep your composure. It gets physical out there. There’s a lot of pushing and shoving and talking and … it’s a fine line of crossing the line that gets you to the point of ejection or not.

“We just gotta make sure we keep our composure in that area. I don’t want them stepping back at all from a physicality standpoint. Not at all. It just reaches a line and we got to know where that line is.”

Gortat nodded his head in agreement.

“X’s and O’s are one thing,” he said. “At the end of the day physicality is the will of winning the basketball game. … There’s a time to do X’s and O’s and a time to fight and scrap and just play the way they play us. Unfortunately, things went wrong for us.”

The Wizards did manage to duck the double-whammy of losing Gortat as well. Video replays showed the center, who was out of the game at the time, leaving the bench and stepping slightly onto the court when the scuffle broke out.

According to NBA rules, any player who leaves the bench area during a fight on the court is subject to suspension.

“It’s not like I was running and yelling and screaming,” Gortat said. “I was just standing there and had no idea what was going on. At some point actually I realized I was on the court, I started taking steps back because I was like, ‘I don’t think I supposed to be here.’ So I started walking back. I was just shocked what was going on on the court at that time.”

Backup forward Trevor Booker started 45 games this season, many of them when Nene was injured. He was one of the closest players to Nene and Butler when they locked up.

“I didn’t know how far it would go. Unfortunately it went too far where he got ejected,” Booker said. “Somebody else has got to step up. He’s a big piece, but we got some games without him that we won.

“We lost focus, but we’ll get it back tomorrow. You got to do what you got to do.”

Butler keeps his head to keep Bulls alive

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dunleavy leads Bulls to Game 3 win over Wizards

WASHINGTON — Give Jimmy Butler credit for keeping his head.

No small feat when a guy the size of Nene is trying to rip it off.

Another day in the playoffs, another night of pushing, shoving, elbowing and jersey pulling.

All that had changed from the first two games was the location to the nation’s capital, where the Wizards and Bulls resumed the impersonation of Republicans and Democrats playing down and dirty.

Then the lid blew off the pot.

Nene had just scored on a breakaway layup when he turned to run back up the floor on defense and happened to reach out with his left arm and clip Butler with a chicken wing.

Butler responded with a one-handed shove in the side and then things got interesting.

The 6-foot-11 Nene leaned in first to put his forehead squarely against Butler. Then he reached up and clamped his right hand around the back of Butler’s neck. Then with his left hand, he tried to take Butler down.

Nene was ejected with 8:28 left in in a two-point game, which left the Wizards vulnerable, Butler inspired and the Bulls quite suddenly empowered.

“Just two people wanting to win the game competing and I guess he gave me one of those and I didn’t like it,” Butler said. “So it is what it is.”

What it was in the immediate aftermath was a chance for Butler to take a handoff from Joakim Noah, run around a screen and bury a critical 3-pointer.

“Whoooo!” said Noah. “Jimmy, that was a big 3.”

Maybe if this wrestling match goes the distance, it will just get lost in the all the muck. But for now, how Butler handled the whole affair and the way he scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter was exactly what the Bulls needed to get themselves going to close out a game.

“I knew I had to [stay composed]. I didn’t want to get ejected like he did or nothing like that. But I can’t back down from anybody. That’s not in me. “I didn’t think it was that serious, but obviously he thought it was. I was just saying, ‘Watch all that.’ It was uncalled for. I’m not mad at him for him. He’s competitive. I respect the guy.”

Nene wanted to put it all behind him.

“You can’t control when you play physical, things get hot,” he said. “It’s over. The whole team is thinking about Game 4 and stepping up for real in a big series.

“It’s over. You need to move [on]. That’s what I’m doing. Now we need to come here [and] play the right way in Game 4 and forget about what happened.”

But what happened could have been the spark to restore the confidence back in the Bulls, who had let fourth quarter leads slip away in both of the home losses to open the series and none of them were really surprised that emotions boiled over.

“I think it was gonna happen eventually,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson. “How the battle is being played, every time down in the paint. I’m surprised it didn’t happen in the first two games. It’s playoff basketball. You got to be smart. You can’t put your hands on people.

“It gets chippy, but you gotta be smart. You can get ejected. You can get suspended for a game. You gotta keep your hands to yourself.”

There might be some cause for concern by the Wizards if the NBA office decides to take a further look at what happened. In these kinder and gentler times of the 21st century, a suspension of Nene is not something that can be entirely dismissed.

For the Bulls, what mattered is the first step back. They knew falling into a 3-0 hole would have sealed their fate.

“We got heart,” Gibson said. “We care. It doesn’t matter who believes in us. We believe in each other. We believe in what the locker room says. And the locker room says we have a chance. We’re going to fight to the last blow.”

But keep their heads like Jimmy Butler when it matters.

Deja vu: Bulls set to shock world again

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

WASHINGTON — The outside world might be shocked to see them down 0-2 after losing a pair of home games to open their first round playoff series.

But to the Bulls themselves, the view hasn’t changed.

“The mood is great. The mood is exciting. The mood is that guys just feel it’s an opportunity to go out there and shock the world basically,” said forward Taj Gibson after the team’s shoot around today at the Verizon Center.

“A lot of people just quit on us. That’s understandable. Our bandwagon’s always been like that since the beginning of the year. So what better than to play for each other? That’s what we’ve been doing all year. That’s what we’re going to continue to do tonight.”

Written off when former MVP and All-Star guard Derrick Rose went down again in November and just about shoved over the edge in February when forward Luol Deng was practically given away to Cleveland in January, the Bulls have been playing with a chip on their shoulder for so long that they’ve come to think of it as part their uniform.

They understand the precarious position they’ve put themselves in. The realize that a loss in Game 3 tonight (8 ET, ESPN) would all but seal their fate. No team in NBA history has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.

“We had a great shootaround,” Gibson said. “We understand what we need to do. We’re on the road now. We’re a good road team. Now it’s time to show it.

“We can’t get in big holes. We can’t come out with a slow pace. We have to come out with a high energy and play good basketball.”

The Bulls’ attitude is that they can take the floor with a free and easy attitude with nothing to lose.

“I felt like it’s been like that for us all year,” said guard Jimmy Butler. “But it’s basketball and the better team’s gonna win. I think we got a great shot tonight. All of our guys are ready. So we’re gonna go and fight and get this win.”

Down goes Dunleavy…before getting back up to spark Bulls


VIDEO: Stitched-up Dunleavy scores 21 second-half points to lead Bulls to rout of Rockets

CHICAGO – Despite his years at Duke and his status as NBA offspring, factors that might cast him as one of the game’s bluebloods, Mike Dunleavy made it painfully clear he bleeds Chicago Bulls red Thursday night in his team’s 111-87 victory over Houston at United Center.

Dunleavy’s head got in the way of Chandler Parsons‘ elbow as the Rockets forward bore down on a fast break in the second quarter. Dunleavy got the call – a charge on Parsons – along with a gash over his right eye that bled instantly and profusely. The Bulls wing player, though dazed, pushed himself up to the floor and hurried to the dressing room, where he took 10 stitches.

Video and photos showed blood running down his face, and ball boys had to mop on the diagonal from the lane nearest Houston’s bench to the far corner to clean up the trail.

Naturally, since he wasn’t more seriously injured, Dunleavy’s mishap was met with amusement and a little locker-room admiration – especially since he returned in time to start the second half and score all of his game-high 21 points from that point, despite the bandage, the throbbing and the swelling.

“That gash looked scary, man,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “That gash looked like a Rocky cut, like when Rocky was in the movie going ‘Cut me, Mick. Cut me!’ Everybody was like, ‘Yo, if you get hit one more time, it’s over for you.’ And he kept a smile on his face. He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m gonna light it up.’ “

Said Dunleavy: “It was pretty hard initially and kind of knocked me back. But once I hit the ground and realized I was bleeding, you’ve got to go to the locker room and get stitched up. No point in hanging around the court and getting blood everywhere. … I just knew, once they got the stitches done, I was coming back.”

He hit 7 of his 11 shots in the third quarter, including 3 of 4 3-pointers, for 18 points. The Bulls, up 50-42 at halftime, outscored Houston 35-16 in the third. But Dunleavy stuck around for nearly nine minutes in the fourth anyway – Rockets coach Kevin McHale largely had yanked his starters by then – to finish 8-of-15 with seven rebounds. He even took another charge.

“That was very impressive and I think it inspired the team,” Chicago’s Joakim Noah said. “He had a huge knot on his head. Looking like Holyfield – the white version. And just coming out there, putting on a new jersey and gutting it out in the second half … it was good for Duke’s street credibility.

“It shows a lot about the character of this team, that somebody could get hit the way he got hit. I’d never seen nothing like that really, getting rocked the way he got rocked. It [blood] was really coming down. Ten stitches. Then to play the second half the way he played? I like that [stuff].”

Easy for Noah to say. Dunleavy said the Bulls’ medical staff checked him for symptoms of whiplash and also peppered him with some questions as part of the NBA’s concussion protocol. “They were asking me questions and I was answering them in a way that wouldn’t lead them to believe I had a concussion,” he said.

At that point, Dunleavy said he had no doubt he would play in the second half, though he didn’t attribute his performance to the blow or any emotions from it.

“It was just a matter of how long it took ‘em to stitch me up. I’ve had that happen a couple times. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes it’s 20,” he said. “It wasn’t a malicious hit on Parsons’ part. Sometimes in that case, when it is intentional, yeah, it can fire you up. But I was kind of sitting back here bored, getting stitched up. I wanted to play.”

It’s been a long season for Dunleavy, who signed a bargain contract (two years, $6.5 million) with the Bulls last summer in the hope of becoming a valuable reserve on a championship contender. Then Derrick Rose went down again, Luol Deng got traded and Dunleavy got bumped into the starting lineup for 44 of 65 games so far.

He’s averaging 30.4 minutes, his most in six years, while shooting just 42.8 percent, 37.0 percent from the arc. Right up to the trade deadline three weeks ago, there were rumors that Dunleavy might be moved, an extra shooter for an ambitious team. But the Bulls kept him, and coach Tom Thibodeau has used him every which way.

“That is the price of winning,” Thibodeau said of Dunleavy’s gash, “and that is why he is so valuable to our team. When you talk about toughness, that is toughness.”

Teammate Jimmy Butler said: “He’s on this team for a reason. He’s a tough SOB. Mike’s been big for this team. Helluva player, helluva shooter, helluva scorer.

“But I will make fun of him when he comes in tomorrow with a black eye.”

It’s only March, but Bulls get statement win over Heat


VIDEO: Joakim Noah talks about the Bulls’ win over the Heat

CHICAGO – So spontaneous, so combustible on the basketball court, Joakim Noah was wise not to let anyone light his fuse off it in the postgame dressing room Sunday.

The question was fair if indelicate, coming so soon after the Chicago Bulls’ 95-88 overtime victory against the Miami Heat at United Center: What would Noah say to the people on both sides of the rivalry who might downplay Chicago’s dig-deep triumph, ceding February and March games to the Bulls while reminding them who owns May and June?

“Sounds like a story to me,” Noah said, smiling slightly. “Sounds like an NBA.com story to me.”

But that wasn’t where this particular NBA.com story was headed.

The Bulls deserved the day. They deserved to enjoy their victory over the NBA’s two-time defending champions for what it was: an irrepressible display of passion and resourcefulness (27 second-chance points to Miami’s six), embodied by Noah, with enough context competing on both sides to cancel itself out.

Chicago has gotten the best of Miami in the regular season, by and large, because it plays harder, cares more and still has things to prove that the Heat do not. There is a satisfaction available to them in these games – particularly without Derrick Rose and now absent rivalry regular Luol Deng, too – that isn’t there for Miami.

What the Heat have is the luxury of playing it both ways: Competing hard to win a game such as Sunday’s but then, when they don’t, shrugging and striding out of the UC daring the Bulls to do it to them four times in seven tries over two weeks sometime after Easter. That makes it a no-lose for Miami, which has earned the right to treat the regular season like one really long runway, and something of a no-win for Chicago.

But then you remember the setbacks the Bulls have weathered, losing Rose to a second knee injury three weeks into the season and trading Deng as a pre-emptive “no mas” move in January, and how some wanted them to race toward the NBA’s bottom, chasing down Philadelphia and Milwaukee for prime Draft position. How they had neither man last spring, either – Rose out, Deng hospitalized – when they lost four in a row to the Heat after taking the opener in their East conference semifinals series. How you have to go back to the East finals in 2011 for the Bulls to come at Miami with their preferred crew.

“You look at all the ups and downs we go through,” Chicago forward Taj Gibson said. “We’ve got so many different injuries. We’ve got so many different guys every year. We’ve got new groups of guys but they always seem to buy into what we like to do. … And we just keep flourishing every year.

“It’s one thing we think about all the time: ‘What if? What if? What if we always had guys healthy or that same unit we had a couple years before?” the Bulls’ Sixth Man forward said. “But you can’t look at that. You have to look at who’s out there, who’s on the bench. Whoever we got, we’re gonna roll.”

It took 53 minutes before the Bulls could roll past Miami on Sunday. Noah led, but others – Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, even newbies like D.J. Augustin and Tony Snell – piled on. Chicago nipped at the Heat’s ankles, banged and bothered LeBron James into 8-for-23 shooting for 17 points and even hauled him down, Butler trading some baseline MMA moves with James in the second quarter.


VIDEO: LeBron James and Jimmy Butler get tangled up in the second quarter

They woofed about the “hate” that bubbles up between these teams whenever they get within 94 feet of each other – hey, the Bulls probably didn’t like it that James, Dwyane Wade and the rest had been hanging around Chicago for two days. And they punked Miami in the five overtime minutes, outscoring them 9-2, outrebounding them by the same numbers and turning nearly every salvaged opportunity into something good.

“We don’t like them,” said Gibson, whose YouTube-able dunk that made it 84-82 with 2:08 left in the fourth quarter took the crowd on a vicarious thrill ride. “You can see how we play. Both teams going at it, Joakim going at it.

“There’s a lot of talking on the floor. A lot of anger. You can tell by the way the fouls are being called and everything. There’s a lot of animosity, there’s a lot of physicality in our teams.”

Everything changes in the playoffs, Chicago knows. James doesn’t play 45 minutes without shooting a free throw in May or June, most likely. Or he switches onto Rose defensively and changes every angle for the point guard. At that time of year, Chris Bosh or Ray Allen hit 3-pointers that break backs, not merely post points.

But just because Noah’s 20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks and nonstop pestering of all things Miami came in March doesn’t mean it didn’t matter or barely even happened.

“Dominant,” Gibson said of Noah’s performance. “He was talking trash to them the whole night. He was in there letting it be known he was going after every rebound, he was going to try to score every time he gets it. He was really tellin’ ‘em everything he was going to do. I could see it in their faces – he was frustratin’ ‘em.”

This was a case of two teams being right – the Bulls in huffing and puffing to seize what they can when they can, and the Heat in knowing that their own itches won’t be scratched until much later. Even Noah knows that. He could chuckle Sunday as he heard himself proclaim “a lot of hate” for Miami, though what he was talking about sounded more like envy. Envy for having an MVP who is more grit and gristle than gauze and bandages. Envy for the rings. Envy for how Miami ends its (and everybody else’s) seasons.

“Those guys ended our seasons a lot, so I think that’s where the hate comes from,” Noah said. “It’s not like ‘Oh, I hate this guy.’ I want what they have. I want a championship. And I know to get there one day, we’re going to have to get through those guys. That’s the hatred.

“I can’t wait till our whole unit comes back. Cause we know we have another level when that boy [Rose] comes back. We’re hungry, we’re a hungry group. That’s all I want. … One day, I want to party in Chicago and see what that feels like. One day.”

Sunday wasn’t that day, but in the meantime, it would do.


VIDEO: Bulls.com recaps Chicago’s big win over the Miami Hea