LIVE: Bulls can make statement vs. NBA-best Spurs

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LIVE: Bulls can make statement vs. NBA-best Spurs

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011Posted: 10:00 a.m.

Associated Press

There's one last stop on the San Antonio Spurs' rodeo trip, which has done nothing to dispute their title as the NBA's best team heading into the All-Star break.

The Chicago Bulls might not be too far behind.

The Spurs try to close out their nine-game trip with a seventh victory Thursday night against the Bulls, who are looking for a 15th win in 16 games at the United Center.

San Antonio (46-9) has lost consecutive games just once, has reeled off three winning streaks of at least eight games and has been the NBA's top road team at 21-7.

The Spurs opened their annual rodeo trip with a loss to Portland but have won six of seven since, with only a poor shooting effort Friday at Philadelphia slowing them down. San Antonio bounced back with a 24-point win at Washington a night later, then cruised past New Jersey 102-85 on Monday.

A victory Thursday would give the Spurs their most wins on the rodeo trip since the 2002-03 team wrapped up its nine-game journey with eight straight victories. That team went on to win the NBA title.

"They're feeling a few bumps and bruises, but they're character guys," coach Gregg Popovich said. "They're professionals, and they know what's expected of them. They know where they want to be at the end of the year and they're working towards that. So no game can be left without trying to get better."

That's an approach the Bulls (37-16) seem to be taking, and they're about to get another boost when center Joakim Noah returns from thumb surgery after the break.

They've been doing awfully well without him. Only the Spurs, at 21-5, have a better record than the Bulls' 19-6 mark since Dec. 26. Luol Deng paved the way to their ninth win in 11 games Tuesday night, scoring 24 points in a 106-94 victory over Charlotte.

Chicago has surrendered an average of 84.5 points in its last 15 games at the United Center.

"Guys are extremely confident," forward Carlos Boozer said. "We're a team - not just one guy, two guys, three guys; we're a group of guys. Everybody on this team, whether you're starting or off the bench, can play in the NBA and play well."

Boozer was still recovering from a broken right hand during Chicago's stop in San Antonio on Nov. 17, part of its annual circus trip, and the Bulls could have used him.

Tim Duncan had 16 points and 18 rebounds as San Antonio rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit to win 103-94. Taj Gibson, filling in for Boozer, missed all seven shots and didn't score.

Boozer dominated the Spurs last season with Utah, averaging 25.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in four wins.

"We're looking forward to playing them," Boozer told the Bulls' official website. "We've played other great teams during the season. It's another big game before the break gets here."

While the battle between Boozer and Duncan should be intriguing, DeJuan Blair might give the Spurs an edge in the paint - particularly with Noah out. The 6-foot-8 center has averaged 13.4 points and 11.0 boards on the road trip.

Two of the league's premier scoring point guards should provide an excellent matchup in the backcourt. Chicago's Derrick Rose scored 33 points in the first meeting, while San Antonio's Tony Parker had 21.

The Spurs, who have split their last four visits to Chicago, are 31-2 when Parker scores 17 points or more.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Wojnarowski: Bulls-Celtics Jimmy Butler trade talks 'will loom over the entire week'

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Former Northwestern football player Torri Stuckey now focuses on helping others

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

NEW ORLEANS — Every All-Star isn’t created equal, even by the slimmest of margins as the best 24 NBA players take their turn on the midseason stage.

So Jimmy Butler being announced among the first five as an All-Star starter had to represent some form of validation, now that he’s not a novice at the whole experience and he’s able to go through the motions of the hectic weekend without breaking much of a sweat.

But despite being a three-time All-Star and routinely mentioned as one of the game’s top 15 players or even top 10, he can’t shake the trade rumors that have seemed to follow him since this time last season.

As he finished up his All-Star experience at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, clarity was nowhere to be found—although heading to some tropical island for a couple days to actually unwind with clear water and warm air seemed to be the best therapy if he’s stressed by the uncertainty of the next few days.

“What’s Thursday? Oh, trade deadline,” Butler said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Am I anxious? Come on, man. I don’t worry about it. It don’t bother or scare me none.”

“Hopefully I’m not going to get traded but I don’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”

Surely it has to be frustrating for a guy who’s elevated his game yet again, averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals for the Bulls in 51 games. But he refuses to let it damper his All-Star spirits, playing with some of the best players in the world and a few guys he calls friends, like DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant.

“Not for me,” said Butler of the potential stress. “Not saying I’m untradeable but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you a hug and say goodbye to you.”

Moments after Butler made his statement in the media room, the floodgates opened for the trade market as fellow Olympian DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans for what seemed to be mere fodder, pennies on the dollar for the most talented center in the NBA.

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While Cousins is far more of a handful than Butler could be, the trade almost signals a consistent truth that always bears repeating—that short of a select few, anybody can be traded.

Even a franchise altering talent like Cousins, who was traded to the city he was physically in for All-Star weekend, and included in the package of players was a guy who hit him in the groin last week (Buddy Hield), resulting in a Cousins outburst and ejection.

Butler has made his name with the Bulls, although not necessarily on the All-Star stage, a player who values defense and doesn’t have as much flash as some of the game’s shinier players.

With a six-point outing in 20 minutes, Butler was an on-court afterthought despite being a starter for the first time.

“Six? Should’ve gone for eight,” he sarcastically deadpanned.

In a relatively jovial mood through the weekend, Butler joked about the talk surrounding him and tried to brush it off as mere chatter as opposed to the franchise not seeing enough in him to make a firm commitment for the long-term, as the Boston Celtics are always hovering.

League sources expect the Celtics to engage the Bulls in conversations for the next few days, but nobody has a great feel for what either side is truly looking for.

But as Butler insisted, he’s only controlling what he can control, which is making himself a fixture for All-Star games to come as opposed to some of the first-timers who don’t know if they’ll get back here again.

“I think I got two underneath my belt,” Butler said. “I know what they’re feeling the first time, It’s so surreal like maybe I do belong here. That’s how I was thinking. Now it’s how do I get here every year? I think that’s the fun part, that’s the challenge. A lot of those guys have done it 10-plus years, hopefully I’m one.”

The only question seems to be, which uniform will it be in because the crazy season has begun.