Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler's triple-double leads Bulls past Sixers: 'We don't care how we do it'

Jimmy Butler's triple-double leads Bulls past Sixers: 'We don't care how we do it'

PHILADELPHIA—Survive and advance.

That's the mantra—or at least it should be for the Chicago Bulls as they trudge through the last road trip of the season, trying to wipe the bad taste from their mouths after an ugly loss to the woeful New York Knicks Tuesday night.

And as the equally-dreadful Philadelphia 76ers gave the Bulls another chance for them not to play down to their level of competition, the Bulls emerged with a ugly 102-90 win at Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia Thursday night.

The win keeps pace with Miami and Indiana at the seventh spot in the East with three games remaining.

"That's it man," said Jimmy Butler, who put up his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. "We don't care how we do it, how many points we score, how many stops we get. Whenever you win, that's all you want this time of year."

Butler had to take additional playmaking duties with Rajon Rondo sidelined with a wrist injury, but needed help from his one-night wingman, Nikola Mirotic, to secure the Westbrookian feat.

With nine assists, Butler didn't deny the statistical accomplishment was in his mind with the game essentially in hand.

"I definitely (knew)," Butler said. "Niko said, you need one more?"

Butler replied, then Mirotic issued the directive that displayed the confidence of a new man this time of year.

"Okay then throw it to me. You throw it to me, I'll shoot it," Mirotic told Butler.

Catch, fire, swish.

Mirotic had his best game since the calendar turned to April with 22 points and seven rebounds, as the triple with less than three minutes left to give the Bulls a 15-point lead, essentially ending any thought of a 76ers threat.

"My shot is feeling great right now. Even though I take tough shots, deep shots, I feel like I'm gonna make them," Mirotic said. "When you make a shot, it's time to shoot. When you don't, try to find a way to make a play. It's going good so far and that's all that matters."

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The 76ers shot 21 percent from the 3-point line and considering they had very little to lose, being in the lottery and playing out the string, hoisted up 33 attempts, refusing to alter their approach when it was clear nobody had a shot going.

The Bulls held rookie Dario Saric to nine points on three of eight shooting in 22 minutes, a stark contrast to his 32-point, 10-rebound showing that he'll use on his Rookie of the Year highlight tape for the media voting on the award.

Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot led the 76ers with 18 points and Justin Anderson scored 17 for the 76ers, a team that beat the Bulls soundly at the United Center a short time ago.

But the two leading scorers combined to go 12 for 26 and three for 12 from the 3-point line, hardly a model of efficiency.

It contributed to shooting 35 percent on the night, but they stayed in the game with pesky play, forcing 16 Bulls turnovers and routinely getting to loose balls quicker than the team that apparently has something to play for.

Holding a 40-26 lead, the 76ers crept back in to slice it in half before the half, and when the Bulls restored order at 68-52 midway through the third, the 76ers cut it to single-digits three times but did little more than hang around.

"When you get that lead and go up 16, I'd love one night to push that thing up to 25 and rest some guys a little bit," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We can't be satisfied, we gotta go into Brooklyn with the mindset that we have to battle."

Jerian Grant gave the coaching staff something to think about after getting his first taste of significant playing time since being benched for Rondo last month. 

Bashful he was not, scoring from the perimeter and being aggressive on drives to the basket—playing with a sense of freedom that belies the fact he doesn't know what will happen to his role when Rondo returns, scoring 15 points in 31 minutes.

"I thought he had some aggressive takes to the basket," Hoiberg said. "For being in and out the rotation, he's only gotten a little time to get out there and play. To step in for a guy and fill those shoes isn't easy. I thought Jerian played very solid tonight."

Aesthetically pleasing it was not, per custom with the Bulls. Whether the implementation of their 21st starting lineup in 79 games or the 76ers having a roster full of players not usually associated with NBA basketball, they certainly didn't seem the least bit aroused.

There were stretches where the Bulls looked serious about things but the malaise and sloppiness was far more common. Taking a double-digit lead meant giving it right back in a quick manner to make the 76ers feel like they were at home and belonged on the floor with the Bulls.

But they could only masquerade but for so long, as the Bulls pulled away and stayed away, looking ahead to their last road game of the regular season.

On to Brooklyn.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.