Bulls clinch playoff berth with blowout win over Nets in regular-season finale

Bulls clinch playoff berth with blowout win over Nets in regular-season finale

One wonders when the minds of the Bulls players and coaches shifted from the Brooklyn Nets to the upcoming playoff opponent, the Boston Celtics.

It could’ve been five minutes into the game or five hours before, when they realized the Nets weren’t making any special additions to their lineup while sitting their top players.

Either way, they didn’t put forth their best performance in a 112-73 win, where the led wire-to-wire, clinching a playoff spot with a 41-41 record—one game worse than last season but enough to make the playoffs in an underwhelming Eastern Conference.

“Now the fun begins,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, as Game 1 on Sunday evening starts the enjoyment against the Celtics in Boston, with Game 2 being Tuesday at TD Garden.

The Bulls were 34-39 a month ago, losers of five straight that included a 100-80 thrashing on a Sunday afternoon that wasn’t as close as the 20-point spread.

“I just told the guys how proud I am of them, our backs were against the wall,” Hoiberg said. “It was a great job of being resilient by our players, hanging in there and sticking in there and finding a way to battle all the way to the last day.”

They finished off their season like they started it—with more questions than answers, stumbling out after tipoff but thankfully for them, they played a team without Jeremy Lin, Brook Lopez and a few others who could’ve made the night miserable.

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Instead, it allowed the Bulls to shoot just 36 percent through three quarters but have such a comfortable lead that none of the starters were truly needed in the fourth quarter.

Jimmy Butler concluded his best season as a pro with a 25 point, six-rebound and four-assist showing, with career-high averages in all three categories. Had the Bulls record been better and Butler not gone through a mini-slump after the All-Star break, he’d be on the back end of some Most Valuable Player conversation.

“I think we all are seeing the evolution of Jimmy Butler,” said Wade in the morning shootaround. “I can’t say anybody, even Jimmy, knew that he would be this player right now. The biggest thing that surprised me is he’s a clutch player. For a guy who hasn’t had a lot of clutch moments in his career, he’s as clutch as it gets.”

He’ll have to settle for getting this rag-tag bunch into a playoff showdown with the Celtics, a team they probably feel confident against—or as confident as an eighth seed should against a top seed.

Presumably, Wednesday shouldn’t be an indication of how the Bulls are going to play but it appears their rotation is set the right way as Rajon Rondo returned from a right wrist injury to play 19 minutes and scored 10 points with five assists and six rebounds.

His backup, Jerian Grant, got valuable playing time in his stead and although he was right with the muck of the night, his 3-point shooting over the last couple weeks elevated him past Michael Carter-Williams for backup minutes.

And with Wade still working himself back into decent shape and rhythm, Paul Zipser had a career night, helping break the game open in the first quarter to score eight of his career-high 21 points off the bench in 29 minutes. The lead kept increased through the night against the undermanned Nets, who were led by Archie Goodwin’s 20 and K.J. McDaniels’ 15 points off the bench.

With the inconsistency of the season costing them throughout, it wasn’t a fatal blow as they get new life this weekend in Boston, with a chance to craft a new narrative and make the season a surprising success.

Bulls parting ways with guard Michael Carter-Williams

Bulls parting ways with guard Michael Carter-Williams

Don't expect to see Michael Carter-Williams in the fold for the Bulls guard spots next season.

The organization is reportedly declining the qualifying option for the young guard, according to John Paxson on David Kaplan's radio show:

Carter-Williams, 25, was acquired in a trade with the Bucks last October in a move that sent Tony Snell to Milwaukee. Snell — the Bulls' first round pick (20th overall) in 2013 — turned in a career year with the Bucks, averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while making 80 starts.

Meanwhile, Carter-Williams appeared in only 45 games (19 starts) for the Bulls, suffering through the worst season of his professional career. He was drafted 11th overall in the same year the Bulls took Snell and Carter-Williams burst onto the scene with 16.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game in his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Carter-Williams was then traded to the Bucks in February 2015. He shot only 36.6 percent from the field in 2016-17 while averaging 18.8 minutes per game.

The Bulls are stacked at guard with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo currently under contract plus 2016 first-round pick Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant (acquired in the Derrick Rose trade), Cameron Payne (acquired in the Taj Gibson deal), Isaiah Canaan and then Kris Dunn and Zack LaVine (who were both acquired in the Jimmy Butler blockbuster last week).

Ways to watch, stream Bulls introductory press conference for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen

Ways to watch, stream Bulls introductory press conference for Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen

The Chicago Bulls will introduce Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen today, and you can watch on CSN or live stream at CSNChicago.com/watchlive.

Tune in as coverage starts at 11 a.m. with players set to take the podium. 

The trio was acquired in the Bulls' trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. LaVine is rehabbing from a torn ACL, which cut his strong campaign short last season. Dunn is coming into his second season and was a player Gar/Pax thought highly of in last year's draft. Markkanen is a stretch-four that was drafted out of Arizona with the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. 

Read more about the new Bulls in Mark Strotman's scouting report.