NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

NBA Buzz: 2017 Draft could be the best in more than a decade

If you've been watching the NCAA Tournament closely, it's apparent this June's draft will include a number of elite prospects, maybe the best top 10 talent since the LeBron, Melo, Bosh, Wade draft in 2003. 

Washington didn't qualify for the tournament, but NBA scouts seem to be in agreement that Washington point guard Markelle Fultz will be the No. 1 pick. The 6-foot-4 freshman has the size and ball-handling ability to play either guard spot, and word out of Boston is Fultz will be the pick if the Celtics get the first choice in the draft lottery.

UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball put on quite a show in the Bruins' win over Cincinnati on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. The 6-foot-6 Ball reminds scouts of a young Jason Kidd, showing amazing court vision and passing skills with the size to see over the top of smaller defenders. And don't caught up in his unusual shooting form. Ball can knock down shots, hitting almost 56 percent from the field this season and 42 percent beyond the 3-point line.

The other consensus top-3 prospect is Kansas small forward Josh Jackson. The 6-foot-8 Jackson is an Andrew Wiggins clone who has amazing quickness and finishing ability. Jackson improved his draft stock with a sensational performance in the first two games of the tournament. If the Bulls decide to trade Jimmy Butler in a deal for one of the top picks this June, the rangy 20-year-old Jackson would be an ideal replacement. If he ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. We could be talking about a 25 points per game scorer.

Since Fultz, Ball and Jackson appear to be the kind of players NBA teams build around, the Bulls could potentially negotiate with the teams holding the top 3 picks for the best possible Butler deal. Right now, the Nets (pick will be swapped with Boston), Lakers and Suns own the worst records, and if the order isn't changed by the lottery, the Bulls could obtain a quality package centered around this year's first-round pick and a quality young player from any of the three teams.

Here's a look at how the lottery selections could fall based on the draft order as of March 23.

1. CELTICS (from Brooklyn)  Markelle Fultz  PG   Washington
2. LAKERS                              Lonzo Ball        PG    UCLA
3. SUNS                                  Josh Jackson   SF    Kansas
4. MAGIC                                Jayson Tatum   SF     Duke
5. 76'ers                                  De'Aaron Fox     PG    Kentucky
6. KINGS                                  Malik Monk         SG    Kentucky
7. KNICKS                               Dennis Smith      PG   N. Carolina St.
8. TIMBERWOLVES              Lauri Markkanen  PF    Arizona
9. KINGS (from Pelicans)       Frank Ntilikina      PG    France
10. MAVS                                 Miles Bridges    SF    Michigan St.
11. HORNETS                         Jonathan Isaac   SF    Florida St.
12. BLAZERS                          Justin Jackson   SF    N. Carolina
13. PISTONS                           John Collins      PF     Wake Forest       
14. BULLS                                OG Anunoby     SG-SF   Indiana  

Alright Bulls fans, I'm sure you're asking, why would the Bulls want to draft a player coming off a serious knee injury? Well, the Bulls haven't done all that well drafting productive older players from major programs, so why not roll the dice on a 19-year-old who could develop into the next Butler?

Scouts raved about Anunoby's potential heading into his sophomore season at Indiana. At 6-foot-8, Anunoby has good positional size to play both the small forward and shooting guard spots and figures to be a plus-defender from Day 1 in the NBA. Right now, his rehab from right knee surgery and lack of a consistent jump shot are the biggest concerns, but looking at mock drafts in the 13-20 range, do the Bulls really want to take a project big man or a mystery international player? 

Even if it takes a couple years for Anunoby to reach his ultimate potential, he seems like a good choice in today's position-less NBA. Plus, in the Bulls' current position, they need to take some chances and try to get lucky in landing a future star.

Two other athletic possibilities who are projected as late 1st round picks right now are SMU junior swingman Semi Ojeleye, a 6-foot-7 bundle of energy and muscle who should be able to contribute right away, and Oklahoma St. point guard Jawun Evans, one of the fastest players in the college game who could ignite the Bulls' fast break after Rajon Rondo moves on.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

If the Bulls are going to make a late season run to the playoffs, they'll have to find a way to pass two of the league's hottest teams. Milwaukee has won eight of its last 10 games to pull into a 6th place tie with the Pacers, while Miami has been one of the league's biggest surprises over the last two months, going from an 11-30 record on January 13 to 35-36, and a game and a half lead over the Bulls and Pistons for the final playoff spot.

Both late surges are surprising, especially the job Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami. After the controversial departure of Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley decided to hedge his bets for the future and signed a number of journeyman veteran types like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Derrick Williams and Willie Reed to short-term contracts.

Williams was released and signed on with Cleveland, but Spoelstra and his staff have done a masterful job in piecing together a roster with a lot of duplication into a consistent winning team. Hassan Whiteside has continued to improve, averaging 17 points and 14 rebounds, while the guard rotation of Waiters, Goran Dragic, Ellington and Tyler Johnson has been especially effective.

Bulls fans will remember James Johnson as a guy who arrived from Wake Forest with a lot of potential, but went on to bounce around the league with little success. Now that he's finally in optimal physical shape, Johnson is averaging 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3.5 assists off the bench while doing a strong job on the defensive end.

Spoelstra probably won't win the Coach of the Year award, but it might be his best job yet after losing Wade and Chris Bosh, then seeing promising second-year forward Justise Winslow go out with a season-ending shoulder injury.

It's been a different story in Milwaukee, where the Bucks got off to a fast start behind the amazing rise of Giannis Antetokounmpo to All-Star status. A mid-season slump dropped the Bucks out of the top 8 in the East, and when Chicago native Jabari Parker suffered another devastating ACL injury, it appeared Milwaukee was heading towards another trip to the lottery.

But Bucks' coach Jason Kidd got Khris Middleton back from a hamstring injury, and inserted rookies Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon into the starting lineup. All of a sudden, the Bucks took off with Antetokounmpo getting back to his early season production, and the bench unit of Greg Monroe, John Henson, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry becoming a real strength.

It's unlikely either Milwaukee or Miami will be a threat to Cleveland and Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, but the hard work and persistence of those coaching staffs should not be overlooked.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Yet another example of the Bulls' maddening inconsistency under Fred Hoiberg over the last 2 seasons is the number of impressive wins offset by blowout losses.

These numbers courtesy of CSN's stats cruncher, Chris Kamka.

Bulls 20+ point wins and 20+ point losses

(with Fred Hoiberg as Head Coach)

                 20+ point wins             20+ point losses

2016-17              6                           7
2015-16              3                           7

total                      9                          14
========================================
(With Tom Thibodeau as Head Coach)

2014-15              7                           1
2013-14              7                           4
2012-13              5                           5
2011-12             14                          0
2010-11              8                          1

total                     41                         11

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

I'm pretty sure Hoiberg was being sarcastic when asked early in the week if battling for one of the final playoff spots in the East is "fun".

The coach's response? "It's miserable." 

Hoiberg won't get a lot of argument from Bulls fans who see their team stuck in the middle among the 30 NBA franchises right now. That's the worst place to be in professional sports, with no hope of contending for championships and little chance of getting a franchise-changing talent in the draft.
 

CSN Insiders Notebook: Is Dwyane Wade done with the Bulls?

CSN Insiders Notebook: Is Dwyane Wade done with the Bulls?

AN ARENA NEAR YOU -- Welcome to another edition of the CSN Insider notebook, where we're once again looking at all the hot-button topics that has folks abuzz in the NBA.

There's been a lot of talk about teams giving players nights off, also known as "strategic rest" . . . which, as you can imagine, hasn't been a huge hit with fans or the NBA league office.

But even that may not be enough to keep core guys from getting hurt.

Unfortunately, the Chicago Bulls know all about this.

Dwyane Wade, who has been held out at times this season as a precautionary measure, suffered a right elbow fracture in a loss to Memphis last week which ended his first (and maybe last?) season in Chicago. Without Wade down the stretch, it's unlikely the Bulls will make the playoffs.

CSN Chicago Insider Vincent Goodwill examines not only the injury and its impact on the Bulls, but also the long-term implications of Wade’s player option to return next season to a roster that may or may not include fellow All-Star Jimmy Butler. 

D-WADE ONE (SEASON) AND DONE IN CHICAGO?

Veterans know their bodies better than even the trainers, so when Wade heard the "click-click" in his right elbow in the third quarter of the Bulls' loss to the Memphis Grizzlies last Wednesday, he feared the worst.

"I told them . . .  it was pretty much a dislocation at the time, and [the elbow] went back in, so [we're] kind of dealing with the aftermath of what that looks like," said Wade. "This is what it looks like."

Wade is out for the regular season and there doesn't appear to be a lot of hope for an improbable playoff showing, should the Bulls come back to qualify for the eighth spot.

The Bulls (33-37) are 10th in the East, a game behind Detroit and Miami, which are tied for eighth.

Looking forward, one wonders if Wade's future is tied to the player he came to Chicago to aid: Butler. The Bulls have been noncommittal about Butler's long-term standing in Chicago, and, although he has a $23.8 million player option for next season, there's no guarantee Wade returns for the second year of his contract.

Will Wade want to ride out another season of uncertainty with young players, especially if Butler is moved? It's certainly a question that deserves to be asked, although he won't answer it at this point.

"At this point, it’s too much cart in front of the horse," Wade said Thursday. "Couple hours removed but definitely too soon." -by Vincent Goodwill

SMART, BROWN DUST-UP IN THE PAST NOW?

At the end of Celtics practices, often you’ll find Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown playing one-on-one. It's apparent to anyone who has seen them play against each other that both are very competitive and stubborn.

Well, those competitive juices almost got out of hand against Minnesota on Wednesday, as they engaged in a shouting match that ultimately ended with Jae Crowder stepping in between them.

Neither player spoke after the game as they boarded a plane that night for New York City to take on Brooklyn.

Prior to the Nets game, which the Celtics won 98-95, both players apparently made up and all is good . . . for now.

"It was two passionate guys, at the end of the day, want to win," Brown told CSN’s Abby Chin. "It was nothing, really."

Smart echoed similar sentiments.

"We had different views on things, like any other team," Smart said. "And you know it's over with and it's on to the next one."

The bruhaha seemed to stem from Brown not allowing a play to develop, instead cutting it short for a drive to the lane and then not getting back defensively.

However, the replay showed Brown had a lane to the basket that was closed quickly by the Timberwolves and resulted in his missed shot. It was the kind of aggressive offensive play the Celtics have come to expect from Brown, who was taken with the No. 3 pick in last June’s NBA draft.

What was lost in this dust-up was what so many the outside recognize.

The Celtics have a young but very talented group of players who are trying to do the seemingly impossible: Continue developing their games and grow as future leaders while simultaneously helping the team win.

This wasn’t the first time the Celtics have some of their youngsters blow up at one another, and it won’t be the last.

The only thing that’s not decided is whether it’ll be as public as it was against Minnesota, or will they manage to keep it in-house? – by A. Sherrod Blakely

BROWN: DAYS OF PLAYERS TAKING NO REST DAYS ‘ARE GONE’

Sixers coach Brett Brown can relate to the current debate over sitting star players in nationally televised games. In 2012, he was tasked with bringing four Spurs back to San Antonio in the memorable benching that cost the organization $250,000 in fines from the league.

"It was my job in Miami to escort [Tim] Duncan, [Manu] Ginobili, [Tony]) Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi [Leonard] back to San Antonio and not play in Miami," Brown said. "We played in Orlando, charter plane had a problem. I went to a commercial airport with those five [high] profile people and navigated through turnstiles and lines and all that to go back and not play because we felt they’re injured, they’re not healthy, and the league spoke. All over the place you understand kind of the whole situation. You get both sides of the argument."

Brown gets frustrated when his players don’t perform well in front of the Sixers home fans who pay money to see a good game, let alone marquee All-Stars like other organizations are dealing with.

At the same time, he doesn’t see the game going back to the days when players grinded it out without taking days off for rest.

"I think the days of somebody being Bruce Bowen, I think are gone," he said. "What the answer is, I don’t know. But I feel that’s just the way mindsets and attitudes and strategies on how do you keep your better players alive in June and May and healthy is real." -by Jessica Camerato

RAPTORS DUE FOR A SHAKE-UP?

Even before it was determined that Kyle Lowry’s right wrist injury would need to be surgically repaired, the Raptors were struggling.

His absence by itself meant a lineup change, but Toronto might need to make one at another position besides Lowry at the point.

The Raptors may give some thought to moving DeMarre Carroll to the bench and inserting P.J. Tucker, acquired from Phoenix near last month’s trade deadline, into the starting lineup.

Carroll, Toronto’s big offseason addition two years ago, has failed to live up to the high expectations the Raptors had for him.

Since arriving in Toronto in 2015 armed with a four-year, $58 million contract, Carroll has struggled to be effective due to injuries. And when he has been healthy, he has still struggled.

Coach Dwane Casey knows he has to do something to shake things up in a season that has taken a turn for the worst lately.

And getting Tucker more minutes is a likely solution to some, if not all, of the Raptors’ problems.

"I don’t know what the numbers are exactly but we’re one of the top defensive teams when P.J.’s on the floor," Casey told reporters recently.

And getting him on the floor would be a lot easier for Casey if he’s in the starting lineup, right? – by A. Sherrod Blakely

PORTER ON THE VERGE OF A HUGE PAYDAY

The momentum leaned heavily towards Otto Porter setting himself up for a $100 million-plus contract when the small forward becomes a restricted free agent this summer.

But Bojan Bogdanovic, who was acquired at the trade deadline and now relieves him from the bench, has not only fortified the second unit but given the Wizards some leverage.

Bogdanovic is a capable starter and an adequate defender. He's averaging 15.4 points and 45.8 percent% three-point shooting in Washington. Porter is at 14.1 and 44.9 from long range.

While Porter is the better defender, he hasn't been lockdown on the wing. He has difficulty with physical players at his position, but still is a valuable piece. 

Coach Scott Brooks uses both when he goes to a small lineup. Bogdanovic will be restricted this summer, too. He makes $3.7 million. Porter, a No. 3 overall pick in 2013, earns $5.9 million.

The intention is to keep Porter, president Ernie Grunfeld told CSNmidatlantic.com recently, but Bogdanovic gives him options. – by J. Michael

WAITERS’ LATEST INJURY (ANKLE) MAY COOL OFF HEAT

The Miami Heat have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the past couple of months, mainly because several players are having breakout seasons.

Among them is Dion Waiters. But his recent ankle sprain may be what cools off the Heat’s playoff aspirations.

Waiters missed three games earlier this season with an ankle sprain, but Waiters said his latest is worse.

When asked about making it back before the regular season ends, Waiters told reporters: "That's the goal. We've just got to keep working on it and hope this thing keeps improving every day. I'm young, 25, so my bones should heal kind of fast. Just got to keep working on just having faith and hopefully I wake up and this thing is gone."

But if they can’t weather the storm without Waiters for the next couple weeks, his return may not matter because Miami could very well fall out of the playoff picture.

"I believe in my guys," Waiters said. "I know they're going to hold the fort down for me, man." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

PORZINGIS ON KNICKS: ‘WE’RE NOT WHERE WE WANTED TO BE’

Kristaps Porzingis, like most New York Knicks fans, had high expectations this season.

But as the year progressed, it became clear to the 7-foot-2 Porzingis that even when the Knicks were playing above-.500 basketball, they weren’t a very good team.

"From the beginning, it didn’t feel like . . . I felt like we would make good runs, but we weren’t there at that level yet where we wanted to be," Porzingis told reporters recently. "And you can see it now we’re not where we wanted to be."

The Knicks (27-42) have lost 7 of their last 10 games and are currently 12th in the Eastern Conference – by A. Sherrod Blakely

INJURIES KEEP HAWKS GROUNDED

Injuries are mounting in Atlanta. The Hawks' best player, Paul Millsap, is missing time because of left knee soreness and Kent Bazemore will be out at least a week until he gets re-evaluated for a left knee contusion.\

And point guard Dennis Schroder has struggled of late, shooting just 30.7 percent (16-for-52) in the Hawks’ last three games -- all losses.

After being among the top four teams in the East for most of the season, the Hawks are skidding and dealing with injuries at the worst possible time.

They're just two games ahead of No. 6 Indiana and less than four games above No. 8 Detroit entering Monday. – by J. Michael

PISTONS TO LOSE ANOTHER EXEC IN PAT GARRITY?

The Detroit Pistons are not all that different than most NBA franchises that try to balance front-office continuity while embracing the notion that good workers will likely move on at some point and find great jobs.

An ESPN.com report indicated that Pistons associate general manager Pat Garrity, one of Stan Van Gundy’s first hires after he took over the Pistons front office in 2014, may be in the mix for the Orlando GM job if the Magic let Rob Hennigan go after this season. 
Garrity, 40, spent nine years in the NBA which included the last eight with the Magic.

"Pat’s a really, really smart guy," Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press. "And a patient and thorough decision maker. He puts some time in before he comes to a conclusion, and makes his recommendation.

Van Gundy added, "Really similar to [Pistons GM Jeff Bower], they’ll give nuanced opinions. I’m always suspect of guys who make decisions sound really easy. To me, most decisions that are really easy, they’re really easy because you haven’t thought them through."

Former Pistons executives Ken Catanella and Brian Wright left for the Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs, respectively, during the last off-season. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

NBA ‘NOT HAPPY’ WITH CAVS SITTING PLAYERS

When Cleveland Cavs coach Tyronn Lue decided to sit LeBron James and a couple of his teammates for a nationally televised game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the perennial All-Star wasn’t happy about it.

As it turned out, he wasn’t alone.

Shortly after word surfaced that James as well as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love would all be held out for the Clippers game, Cavs GM David Griffin said he received a call from the league office.

"Seven minutes after it was announced. Yeah, they were not happy," Griffin told ESPN.com. "I feel bad for the league. I really do. But it is what it is for us from an injury standpoint. We literally had one guy rest tonight and everybody else was reasonably injured. I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious."

Not surprisingly, the Clippers (41-29) had no problem beating the Cavs 108-78 which certainly enhanced their playoff position which is very much an up in the air thing for the Los Angeles these days.

They are currently fifth in the West, trailing Utah by two games and ahead of Oklahoma City by 0.5 games.

Not only did the Clippers get the win, but their Big Three – Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan – got a chance to watch from the bench for the entire fourth quarter because of how lopsided the game had become up to that point – by A. Sherrod Blakely

WESTERN CONFERENCE

DURANT RETURN NEAR?

It’s unclear exactly when Kevin Durant (left knee MCL sprain, tibial bone bruise) will be dropping 30-foot jumpers and dunking on unsuspecting big men in transition.

But he's making progress; enough to where he will be traveling with the team for a back-to-back set of games at Oklahoma City and Dallas.

"I've watched him today shooting jump shots," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said before Golden State’s 117-92 win over Milwaukee on Saturday. "I've watched him go from sitting in a chair shooting to standstill shooting and now jump-shooting, so he's clearly making progress. It's great."

Since Durant’s injury, the Warriors have a 5-5 record. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

HILL DUE FOR A NET GAIN?

Even though George Hill has had a career season in Utah and will be a free agent this summer, the Jazz will have plenty of suitors trying to pry him from Salt Lake City. The Brooklyn Nets are reportedly one of the teams that’s expected to make an aggressive run at the 31-year-old veteran.

While his numbers have been solid for Utah this season, what makes him such an attractive target has been the way his game has impacted winning in Utah.

After coming oh-so-close to making the playoffs the last couple of seasons, Hill’s arrival has been vital to Utah currently fourth in the Western Conference. And when he has not played due to injuries, there’s a noticeable drop-off in overall production and wins.

However, his age and history with injuries may work against him when it comes to getting a max-deal or near-max deal which he is reportedly seeking.

Regardless of what deal he ultimately winds up signing, Hill has proven himself to be a player who does what all players should strive towards doing and that’s having a great impact on winning. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

HARDEN’S MVP CHASE GAINING MOMENTUM

Houston’s James Harden has been in the MVP conversation all season. But the way h's played lately, Harden may very well be the front-runner at this point.

He recently added a 19th triple-double of the season, but it was of the 40-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist variety, which increased his single-season record of 40-point triple-doubles to seven.

But beyond the numbers, Harden has done a phenomenal job of keeping the Rockets near the top of the Western Conference standings. And within that success, you find that Houston is 13-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season which speaks to how they are able to find success at times when from an energy stand point, they are at their most vulnerable state. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

CRAWFORD BACK IN THE NBA, MAKING AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT

Jordan Crawford is back in the NBA playing for the New Orleans Pelicans doing what Jordan Crawford does best . . . get buckets.

And that instant-offense brand of basketball has led to him parlaying a 10-day contract into a two-year deal.

Having spent the past couple of years playing overseas and in the Development League has indeed made Crawford even more appreciative of this opportunity he has now to be back in the NBA.

"This journey that I'm on -- it's a basketball journey because that's the business, but it's really life," he told reporters recently. "I learned a lot of life lessons [while] becoming a man. Learning things that's small and things that are big, things that are thrown at you that you can't control how to deal with them. Just took it as a man."

In his first six games with New Orleans, Crawford had double figures scoring in all but one of those games. He’s averaging 13. 0 points while shooting 48.7 percent from 3-point range. And in the six games he has played, the Pelicans have a 3-3 record. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

STEVENS, DONOVAN DRAW COLLEGE INTEREST?

Boston coach Brad Stevens and Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan have made the transition from coaching in college to the NBA a relatively smooth one.

So it’s not all that surprising that both of their names were rumored as potential candidates for one of the more high-profile college openings.

But both coaches have said repeatedly that they have no intention of returning to coaching in college.

"I don’t speak to the rumor mill or anything else," Stevens, an Indiana native who led Butler University to a pair of national title runner-up finishes, told reporters prior to Friday’s game at Brooklyn. "I’ve made pretty clear I’m going to be here. I’ve been asked about that quite a bit. And I’ll keep saying the same thing. I’m going to be here until the Celtics decide they want to move in another direction."

Donovan, who was one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals last season, had similar comments when asked about the rumors involving him and Indiana University.

"I am totally happy here," Donovan told the Oklahoman. "I love it here. I love the guys I work with every day. I love our staff, the organization. As far as I'm concerned, my commitment is totally here and doing the best job I can while I'm here." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

Dwyane Wade vents after Bulls blown out by Celtics

Dwyane Wade vents after Bulls blown out by Celtics

BOSTON — Of all the metrics that could be described to best illustrate yet another disappointing effort for the Bulls in their 100-80 loss to the Boston Celtics Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, one snapshot stands out as they simply submitted from the opening tip.

On consecutive possessions after turnovers and misses, only one Bull crossed halfcourt as the Celtics increased their lead to 29 with uncontested layups in the third quarter.

It prompts the question, given the five-game losing streak and the manner in which it’s happened recently, of whether the Bulls have given up on the season — despite being in playoff contention.

"No, I don’t think we're giving up," Jimmy Butler said. "We're just not playing any type of good basketball as a whole. We gotta get back to winning basics before we can try to do anything else. Getting back in transition. Guarding the way we’re supposed to be. Taking the right shots. I'm sure we're gonna talk about that for awhile before we play Charlotte.

"But we're not giving up, I can tell you that."

Not much changed from Friday night's showing or strategy against the Houston Rockets. Fred Hoiberg played 11 players in the first half, with only Michael Carter-Williams being the change.

"It's tough," Dwyane Wade said. "Especially when you're playing teams that's ready for the playoffs, besides Orlando. It's all been playoff teams and they're ready. They know what they gotta do. We're still… experimenting."

Whether it actually played a part in the Bulls' worst first quarter and first half showing is up for speculation, but shooting three for 22 in the first quarter against a Celtics team that wasn't playing swarming defense.

"I don't think it was a lack of competing but a lack of shot making," Hoiberg said. "Missed some really good looks and turned it over four times in that span. But to answer your question, the vets are staying positive and that's the only way I can judge it right now."

They missed their first 12 shots from the field before Wade bailed them out with a jumper and the Celtics jumped out to a 20-4 lead as the Bulls mustered just nine points in the quarter.

Wade, who finished a career-low minus-37 on the plus-minus scale, offered some level of shelter for Hoiberg, as the Bulls coach and players have been put in an impossible position since the trade deadline.

"It does, it does. A lot of people have a lot of things they can say about Fred as a coach but I will defend him on this: this is a tough situation he's been put in," Wade said. "I'm glad I'm on this side, glad I got a jersey and I don't have to make certain decisions because it is tough. No one is going care too much, Fred gets a nice paycheck, I got a nice paycheck, Jimmy gets a nice paycheck. This 2016-17, we all go down together no matter what the story is. And it's on us."

Watching his words given how calling his teammates out went several weeks ago, Wade was asked if it was fair of him to answer questions about a situation no one in the locker room created.

"I don't know. I wish upper management could be answering the questions because I'm tired of answering them every game," Wade said. "I don't know. I wish I had the answer. I don't wanna say too much, I don't wanna say the wrong thing. I just wanna get out there, try to play and lead. Figure out a way me and Jimmy can be better. Right now they're just watching us on pick and rolls, we gotta find a way to be better, so we can help everybody else be better."

Wade might've washed out his defense of Hoiberg when Wade suggested he and Butler are too easy to guard, saying "pick and rolls, that ain't it." Wade said he and Butler would have to get with the coaching staff before Monday's game in Charlotte to try to figure out new strategies to get them easier looks — because at this stage, opponents have figured the Bulls out and the word is spreading to trap Wade and Butler, then wait on the house of cards to fall from there.

The nine was the season-low for any quarter this season — which was one short of the players Hoiberg used in the first as Nikola Mirotic was further embarrassed by being listed as inactive in place of Isaiah Canaan.

Butler's post-All Star slump continued as he shot just two for 11, but it wasn't as bad as Bobby Portis' nightmare.

Airballs, turnovers, you name it, Portis probably did it as he struggled as much as he has at any point during this stretch since the trade of Taj Gibson.

The problem is, he wasn't the only one as the Celtics didn't break a sweat. Wade shot four for 11. Joffrey Lauvergne was one for seven. Rajon Rondo was one for five.

Overall, the Bulls shot 36 percent as Denzel Valentine made a dent in the scoring column with 13 but all came when the game was out of reach — and the playoffs look not too far behind.

Once the Celtics' lead reached double figures at 10-0 with 7:44 left in the first quarter, the Bulls never got it under 10.

There was no need for an Isaiah Thomas explosion, although he and Avery Bradley had a field day against the Bulls' guards. Thomas scored 22 and Bradley 17, with each playing under 30 minutes.

Rookie Jaylen Brown showed some signs why he'll be a big piece in any trade discussions this summer, with a couple highlight plays in his 21 minutes.

But the Celtics didn't blow out the Bulls with red-hot shooting or otherworldly efficiency, although they corralled plenty of loose balls and hit 14 triples.

They simply didn't need to bring their best game because their opponent forgot to bring any game to TD Garden.