NBA schedule officially released

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NBA schedule officially released

The NBA officially released the 2011-2012 schedule on Tuesday and after the Bulls open the season on Christmas Day in Los Angeles, they will play in California in their following three games. The rest of the four-game road trip features games against the Warriors on Dec. 26, the Kings on Dec. 29 and back to the Staples Center to play former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro's Clippers on Dec. 30.

The first home game of the season will take place New Year's Day, when the Bulls host the Grizzlies at the United Center. The team's lone back-to-back-to-back stretch of the abbreviated, 66-game regular-season schedule starts Jan. 9, when they host the Pistons, and ends Jan. 11 with a matchup against the Wizards, sandwiching a quick road trip to Minnesota in between.

Chicago's schedule features four games against Eastern Conference finals foe Miami -- the first game against the Heat is a Sunday afternoon affair in South Florida on Jan. 29, with home games on March 14 and April 12, and a final road contest on April 19 -- as well as a Martin Luther King Day matinee in Memphis on Jan. 16. Though the Bulls avoided their annual November circus trip, the first Heat game kicks off the Bulls' longest road swing of the season, a nine-game trip that also includes games at Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Milwaukee, New Jersey, New Orleans, Boston on Feb. 12.

Other notable games on the slate include an April 1 afternoon affair against Kevin Durant and the Thunder at Oklahoma City, another Sunday matinee on April 8 in New York (the Knicks will then travel to Chicago for an April 10 rematch), an April 21 home matchup against the Mavericks -- the sole contest against the defending champions this season -- and the regular-season finale, April 26, against the Cavaliers at the United Center. The Bulls' two preseason games will be against the Pacers, Dec. 16 in Indianapolis and Dec. 20 in Chicago.

Can anybody beat the Warriors? Breaking down which teams have the best chance

Can anybody beat the Warriors? Breaking down which teams have the best chance

With most of the major offseason moves already made in the NBA, it's probably a good time to take stock of whether any team has closed the gap on the rising dynasty in the Bay Area.

Golden State is young and talented with most of its core players locked up for the next several years. The Warriors re-signed two-time MVP Steph Curry to a designated player extension worth over $200 million and also brought back NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant on a two-year deal that was about #9 million less than what he was entitled to under the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Durant's willingness to give the Warriors a "hometown discount" allowed general manager Bob Myers to also bring back productive vets Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston on multi-year deals, while using league exceptions to add shooters Nick Young and underrated Omri Casspi for depth off the bench. The Warriors also re-signed veteran big men Zaza Pachulia and David West. Barring a serious injury to one of the team's stars, Golden State is locked and loaded to steamroll the league for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn't mean the other 29 teams have given up trying.

Houston GM Daryl Morey says it's now an "arms race" for contending teams, adding the Warriors "aren't unbeatable." Morey struck before the start of free agency with a blockbuster trade to acquire one of the league's top point guards, Chris Paul, from the Clippers, and he's still pursuing a Carmelo Anthony deal with the Knicks to form the NBA's latest "super team."

Problem is, does anyone really believe a Houston team with three ball-dominant players in Anthony, James Harden and Paul have any chance to beat Golden State in a best of seven series? Especially given the fact Harden and Anthony are going to get torched on the defensive end? I didn't think so.

San Antonio is still a threat after bringing back most of the key players from last year's team, along with free agent addition Rudy Gay. But even though Kawhi Leonard is a top 10 player, and LaMarcus Aldridge is a reliable secnd scoring option, the Spurs are getting pretty long in the tooth with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol. Plus, they lost one of their most dynamic bench players, Jonathan Simmons to Orlando in free agency.

Can Gregg Popovich lead this group past the Warriors? I don't think so.

Love what Sam Presti did in Oklahoma City, adding top 10 talent Paul George in a trade with Indiana for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Both George and league MVP Russell Westbrook can be free agents next summer, so it will be fascinating to see if they can develop some on-court chemistry and lead OKC to a top four seed in the West, while pushing their own personal agendas to the side. The Thunder have a couple of talented big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, and they also brought back defensive specialist Andre Roberson. But beat the Warriors. No chance.

Let's move over to the East. Boston won the free agent sweepstakes for Gordon Hayward, and top draft pick Jayson Tatum was impressive in summer league play. But the Celtics had to sacrifice Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson to fit Hayward in under the salary cap. So, is Brad Stevens' team really better than the one that had the best record in the East last season? Maybe, but probably not improved enough to beat the Cavs.

Speaking of Cleveland, the biggest offseason story for the Eastern Conference champs involves the future of LeBron James. James reportedly is frustrated and disappointed by the lack of roster improvement, but then what should he expect, considering the Cavs still haven't replaced general manager David Griffin, who was fired over a month ago.

Chauncey Billups turned the job down after getting a low-ball initial offer, and the Cavs missed out on their opportunities to acquire George or Jimmy Butler in part because of the front office dysfunction. Cleveland still figures to be the class of the East next season, but anything short of a championship could send James looking for a better life out west with the Lakers or Clippers.

As for the rest of the East, Toronto and Washington should hold on to top-four seeds after re-signing their key free agents, and Milwaukee could be a team on the rise, especially if Chicago native Jabari Parker can make it all the way back from a second ACL injury.

Philadelphia will be fun to watch with the top picks from each of the last two drafts, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, and free agents J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson joining talented big man Joel Embiid. But it's pretty bleak after that, with the Pacers and Hawks joining the Bulls in pushing the reset button and hoping for luck in next year's draft lottery.

Back to our original question: Can anyone beat the Warriors next season? Sure doesn't look like it.

Jimmy Butler on first game back in Chicago: 'I’m just gonna try to score like five points'

Jimmy Butler on first game back in Chicago: 'I’m just gonna try to score like five points'

Longform podcast interviews are good for getting honest answers out of notable guests.

Bill Simmons got former Bulls wing Jimmy Butler to open up about a wide range of topics in an hour-plus interview on The Bill Simmons Podcast. Butler said plenty of interesting things about his time with and exit from the Bulls.

For starters, Butler opened up about how his draft day trade went down from his perspective. He said he was in Paris, playing cards with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union.

“It was a great game of spades,” Butler said.

Butler recalled a comical reaction to his agent calling him in the middle of the game to let him know a move to Minnesota was likely.

“I said ‘OK, cool, I’m going to get back to my spades game’ because once again I can’t control that,” Butler said.

Butler said he had an exit interview with Gar Forman and John Paxson after the Bulls were knocked out of the playoffs. After the meeting, Butler explained that he wasn’t sure what direction the team would go in, either to build around Butler or go through a rebuild.

“I have nothing against anybody on that team, anybody in that organization, but they were so stuck on not building around me, but maybe building with me as they would say, or going young, a rebuild,” he said. “It was one or the other, but I just wanted to know. Was it clear when I left that meeting what we were going to do? No.”

Butler did eventually start to think that he would get traded from Chicago. He turned to Anthony for his experience in being traded.

Anthony is back in trade rumors again and while Butler wouldn’t say anything about Melo’s latest rumors, he did say he asked Anthony about going through the trade process.

“It was new to me,” Butler said. “It was shocking at first, but then it settled in. It was like it’s a business. You can’t act like you didn’t know eventually that this was going to happen. I may not have known that it was going to happen that day, but I knew I wasn’t going to be there.”

Butler is now reunited in Minnesota with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and former Bulls teammate Taj Gibson. Simmons asked Butler if Thibodeau sleeps more than three hours. Butler's response: “No way.”

Butler’s return date to Chicago isn’t yet set with the NBA schedule set to come out in August. Simmons asked Butler about what his return to the United Center could be like.

“I’m just gonna try to score like five points in my first game back,” Butler said. "That’s all I need.”

While that answer doesn't really explain why he said he will try to score only five points, Butler thinks the Chicago crowd will give him some love. He was adamant that he wouldn’t cry though. That will be tested during the highlight reel the Bulls are likely to play for him in his return.

Butler also said he has no bad blood with owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf called him after the trade and Butler said he respected him for that.

“The ownership was phenomenal when I was there… as in great people,” Butler said. “(He) was always doing everything in the community, which means so much to me.

“They always put everybody in a position to be successful when it came to in that community and just being really great people and wanting it to be a family-like atmosphere.”

Butler also said he’s the best at dominoes, for whatever that’s worth.