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."

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

In first game of post-deadline era, Bulls come up with comeback overtime win over Suns

The post-deadline era has begun for the Bulls, with the directives clear on developing their young players and seeing what can be done in the last third of the season.

And while their youth sparked them early, it was the headliners who stepped up late in their 128-121 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at the United Center, as the team was clearly adjusting to life without Taj Gibson, who was traded Thursday.

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade each had sluggish starts, to say the least. Each looked like he was going through an island-like malaise through the better part of three quarters before waking up.

Butler finally ignored the snooze button at the most opportune time, nearly winning the game in regulation with a tying triple, then a fadeaway 15-footer over Eric Bledsoe to cap off a late comeback that saw the Bulls rebound from an eight-point deficit with a few minutes left in the fourth.

"That's what great players do," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They step up when you need them the most. Jimmy obviously had a tough night shooting the ball (early). ... What he's been doing all year, taking over the game in the fourth, and tonight was no different."

Then Wade, in one of his few post-halftime mistakes, controversially fouled Suns sharpshooter Devin Booker on a triple with 1.5 seconds left, but Booker missed the last of the three free throws to send the game into overtime.

"I think it was good defense," said Butler before giving a nod to his controversial whistle that went his way a week ago. "We don't wanna go back too far, but a foul's a foul."

Wade and Butler continued the assault into the extra session, with Wade rising for a late flush over Suns center Alex Len and raising his arms in celebration — having put together a 23-point performance after a scoreless first half.

"That dunk he had was unbelievable," Hoiberg said. "I should give him another week off."

In the early stages, Butler wasn't as futile as Wade, but he wasn't much better, scoring just eight before the fourth but being more aggressive and assertive with his moments and jump shots, finishing with 22 to go along with nine assists and four steals.

"Just keep shooting the ball and eventually it'll go in," Butler said. "And they did. Coaches put the ball in my hands, I kept taking the same shots, making the same plays. Then they went in."

The Suns led most of the way, mostly due to their team-wide speed and athleticism, getting out on the break the way they did in the first meeting two weeks ago. Booker scored 27, while Bledsoe, TJ Warren and Marquese Chriss each scored 17. Bledsoe added 10 assists and seven rebounds in 40 minutes.

They dominated the fast-break department at a 27-16 clip, and the Bulls actually countered with 3-point shooting, hitting 12 triples and shooting 46 percent from 3.

Nikola Mirotic was 4-for-7 from deep on the way to a 20-point night, while Denzel Valentine put together his best showing as a pro with 15 points, all coming on five made 3s.

Three straight triples from Valentine pulled the Bulls to within one late in the third quarter. The shots were decisive and confident — perhaps as he knew he wouldn't be removed for anyone at the first mistake.

"I like it, take the shots when you're open. Sometimes when you're not open, still shoot it and we know to get back," Butler said.

There were plenty of mishaps and things to complain about as the Bulls hit a new wave, but at least it started with some positive vibes after a day of uncertainty and confusion.

Chance the Rapper poses with Benny the Bull at United Center

Chance the Rapper poses with Benny the Bull at United Center

Two Chicago legends were spotted courtside before the Bulls tipped off against the Phoenix Suns on Friday. 

Chance the Rapper, recent winner of three Grammy Awards, snapped a photo with Benny the Bull at the United Center.

The south sider is spending a few months back in his hometown before starting a nationwide tour in April. His stop at the Bulls game should come as no surprise, as the "Coloring Book" rapper has become big friends with Jimmy Butler. Tough to name a more talented duo than that. 

Chance was also seen in New Orleans last weekend for the NBA All-Star festivities.

We know he's already a White Sox team ambassador, but are the Bulls next up?