Banged-up Bulls are losing, but Fred Hoiberg optimistic as All-Star break approaches

Banged-up Bulls are losing, but Fred Hoiberg optimistic as All-Star break approaches

The All-Star break is days ahead for the Bulls, and it seems like they're waiting to be saved by the bell, limping and waiting on the standing eight-count.

Jimmy Butler went through practice, though his status is unknown for Tuesday's game against the Toronto Raptors — the cure-all to every Bulls ill, it seems — is still an unknown. Fred Hoiberg is more optimistic about his prospects than the rest of the injured brigade.

"He's sore, as I think everyone would expect," Hoiberg said following Monday's afternoon session at the Advocate Center. "But it was good to see him back out there with the guys. We'll see how he's doing tomorrow morning, put him through shootaround. I'm sure we'll put him through a workout before the game and then make a determination."

Nikola Mirotic's back spasms kept him out of practice, while Dwyane Wade (right wrist) and Paul Zipser (left ankle) went to get MRIs during practice. Wade's wrist looked swollen Saturday and Sunday from a hard fall he took Friday against the Phoenix Suns, and one wonders if taking these two games off and having an extended rest with the long time in between games will be the most prudent option, results pending.

When Butler, the Bulls' main piece, took an awkward step on a fast break in Oklahoma City while the Bulls were giving the Thunder a whipping, it looked as if the road trip would give them some much-needed straightening, and even playing well against the Houston Rockets made it look like it would be the start of a fruitful trip.

But unlike the Bulls' "Circus Trip" in November, the fruit turned sour shortly thereafter, and giving up 100 points in nine straight games (the first three in the streak came at home) shows a level of slippage and the attention to detail that has been sorely lacking. Getting trounced in resounding fashion by the woeful Suns and then allowing the never-ending Tom Thibodeau revenge tour to roll over the Bulls in Minneapolis makes Hoiberg look like he's one of the few with such positive thoughts.

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"You have to find a way to bounce back, get refocused these two important games before the break," Hoiberg said. "The big thing is getting off to good starts. When we didn't play well on the trip, that was the common theme. We had poor starts. We turned the ball over, it affected our transition defense and didn't close those games. It's about getting back to basics tomorrow, making the easy play, getting back in transition, rebounding."

Still, Hoiberg doesn't think his players have been worn down mentally by some of the drama, the dog days of the year or even the inevitable injuries.

"It seems like a long time ago that we have that game against Oklahoma City," Hoiberg said. "That's the message to the guys, we're fully capable of playing good basketball. You have to get off to good starts, take care of the basketball, rebound. It's basics, fundamentals we have to do better if you want a chance to win.

"It was less than a week ago, we were putting together good performances, so it's about getting back to what made that happen and again, we're capable."

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls visit Bucks in final regular season meeting on CSN

Watch as the Bulls take on the Milwaukee Bucks today on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Can the Bulls get one on the Bucks? The Bulls are 0-3 against the Bucks so far this season and it hasn't been pretty. The Bucks have won the previous three meetings all by double digits and by an average of 19 points. The youth and athleticism of the Bucks has been a tough matchup for the Bulls so far.

2. Containing Giannis. There may be no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Bulls can at least try to contain him. Antetokounmpo is averaging 23 points and nearly nine rebounds per game. In three games against the Bulls this year he has averaged 29 points, 10 rebounds and 7.3 assists per contest. If the Bulls are to stay in the game, they will need to keep him to numbers lower than that.

3. Playoff implications. The Bulls playoff hopes are still alive with nine games remaining, but things are looking a bit bleak. The Bulls are a game and a half out of the eighth playoff spot, but only 3.5 games behind two teams tied for the No. 5 seed, the Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks have won three in a row to improve their position.

4. Mirotic on a roll. Streaky play is nothing new to Nikola Mirotic, but he's on a good run currently. After scoring a season-high 28 points on Wednesday against the Pistons, Mirotic followed that up with 15 points against the 76ers. Since missing three straight games earlier this month, Mirotic has scored in double figures in five of the last seven games and is averaging 15.6 points during that stretch.

5. Beginning of a tough stretch. The Bulls' playoff hopes could be made or broken in the next three games. After taking on the Bucks, which occupy a playoff spot, the Bulls host two more Eastern Conference playoff teams in Cleveland and Atlanta. The Bulls need to string some wins together and this is not an easy stretch to do so against.

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Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

Former Bulls center Joakim Noah suspended 20 games for violating NBA's anti-drug policy

The NBA announced Saturday that it has suspended former Bulls and current Knicks center Joakim Noah for 20 games without pay for violating the league's anti-drug policy.

He tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement called selective androgen receptor modulator LGD-4033, which is prohibited under the current collective bargaining agreement but would not have been under the new CBA starting next year, according to ESPN's Marc Spears.

It was announced in February that Noah would miss the remainder of the season with a left knee injury. His suspension will carry over into the 2017-18 campaign with only 10 games left this year.

Noah averaged 5.0 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in 46 games in his first of a four-year, $72 million contract with the Knicks.