Bulls pile on another injury, but defeat the Timberwolves

Marco Belinelli sat with an ab strain which gave Jimmy Butler his first career start at shooting guard. Butler responded with a career high 20 points on just 11 shots to go along with nine boards, two assists, three steals, and a block. Not a bad box score for someone in the mix to start at shooting guard next season.

Butler largely played to his strengths by forcing the issue at the basket and getting hacked. He shot eight of nine from the free throw line accounting for more than half of the Bulls free throws. Chicago needs a player who can draw a foul occasionally to get them those easy points, and outside of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler is the best on the team at it.

What turned a good offensive night into a great one was Jimmy knocking down both of his three point attempts. If Butler can find consistency in knocking down his open threes then he'll become the ultimate starting shooting guard next to Rose. His defense is tremendous, his hustle is tremendous, he can add many things while on the floor, but the area you get most concerned about is whether he can consistently knock down the open jumper.

He's shooting 32.4% from beyond the arc this season which is pretty far away from where he likely needs to be as a major minute two guard for the Bulls, but the improvement in his shot from last season has been significant.

The Bulls won the game through offensive rebounding combined with decent offensive efficiency. The Bulls are typically tough to beat when they shoot over 45%, but their defense didn't especially show up, allowing the Timberwolves to shoot 50% from the floor. What did show up is their rebounding domination. You don't need to shoot a better percentage than the other team when you can hoist up 11 more shots.

Chicago also uncharacteristically fired away from long range all night long, but connected at a solid percentage knocking down 10/26 from beyond the arc. The Timberwolves hit half their threes but only shot 12. In the end, the Wolves hung around for most of the game but never seriously threatened bringing the lead down to five at one point in the fourth before the Bulls grabbed an offensive rebound and knocked down a three which was symbolic of the results on the night.

Nate Robinson gave the Bulls good 'Nate' scoring a team high 22 while Deng and Boozer chipped in 17 and 19 as well. Taj Gibson left the game after banging knees with Ricky Rubio but returned later when the game started to get close and should be fine for Wednesday's tilt against Miami.

No word on whether or not Marco will play next game, but it's assumed Joakim Noah, who hates the Heat with a passion, will return against Miami. I'd expect they'll both be back giving the Bulls as near a full compliment of players as they've had for awhile with just Rose and Hamilton likely missing the game.

That said, I'm not holding my breath on the Bulls ending the Miami win streak.

What is nice is that the Bulls had a quality weekend after losing that tough game to Denver and getting blown out by the Trailblazers. The Bulls needed a couple wins and got them. The Bulls are now two games up on Boston for the sixth spot, a half game behind Atlanta for the fifth, and two and a half behind the Nets for fourth.

The Pacers have fallen behind the Knicks for 2nd, but only by percentage points. As long as the Bulls don't finish eighth it's probably a crapshoot on what will end up best without knowing which other teams finish where, but with a four game lead on Milwaukee and a soft schedule remaining the Bulls are a virtual lock to finish 7th or above.

If they get Derrick Rose back, and Rose can play like himself, then the Bulls would be my favorites to make it to the ECF even if they finish in seventh, and even without Rose they'd have a chance (albeit a much smaller one) as the East is nothing to get excited about outside of the Heat.

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  • It was hard to know what to expect without Rose this year, especially after the bench mob was dismantled, even harder with all the additional injuries the Bulls have had. But they've had nothing short of a solid year, winning their last 2 games without their 2 best players in Rose and Noah, and a clear playoff team throughout the year. A testament to great coaching and surprising depth.

  • Good game by Jimmy Butler, i still say i would put him at the 3 spot instead of at shooting guard and De.g would be used as trade bait to bring in veteran shooting guard or a young 2 guard from this years draft. Phillip Olidepo of the Indiana Hoosiers would be a nice pick and fit next to Rose next year. Im sure he will be a lottery pick that Deng and other assets could be had for.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I would also plan on moving Deng and using Butler in his role and then freeing up Deng's salary slot. I don't know what Deng would fetch on the open market though. His contract is fairly expensive, he only has two years left, and he's getting to the point where the returns will start to diminish next contract.

    He's the type of player a contender with a good core but a hole at SF would likely value, however, that would describe the Bulls as much as any other team. It's also not so likely teams fitting that mold will have the type of picks we want.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Agreed but I also think that Deng would be a valuable asset to a young lottery team looking for veteran leadership. A team like the wizards... Ariza, maybe another one of their players and their lottery pick for Deng to make the money match, I could be wrong on the number of players the wizards would have to give up.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    That might be a nice fit for the Bulls and Wizards given that the draft isn't supposed to be that great so the lottery pick may not be worth as much to them and they could really use a player like Deng.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    It would be nice to see a starting lineup of Rose, Butler, Deng, Taj, Noah to start the season next year, assuming that no major moves are made over the summer (other than a Boozer amnesty, by that would be wishful thinking!). Might as well give Jimmy a solid shot at better developing into a 2 guard before trying to trade Deng away. Although Deng may only be a third option on offense at best, he is a perfect fit in Thibs system. Plays hard defense, plays well off the ball, etc.

    That being said, I really hope the Bulls take a strong look at Hardaway Jr. with this year's pick. He has looked great all season and seems to be someone that could step right in to the Bulls rotation and play solid minutes while still maintaining a large upside.

  • In reply to Motoman:

    Well to be perfectly honest Deng is as good as he's going to get and will be on the decline after this year. It would be smart if the Bulls could put together a trade package to ship Deng out while he's a so called two time all star the past couple years. His value is as high as its going to get. He's a good player but... Its time to move on to build around Rose the players that he wants and needs to try to beat Miami.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    I know if I were Rose I wouldn't want to conceed to Miami over the next few years. I would be bugging the Hell out of the owner, leaving emails, voicemails, or whatever...I WANT TO BEAT THE HEAT!!! Wade did this a few years ago when Miami had if not the worst record close to it that he was done not making the playoffs and getting eliminated in the first round. He seems to be standing by those statements very well. Rose need to bug his owner relentlessly after this season to help him build a winner just like Wade and Jordan back in the day.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Contradictory messages though. You don't want to concede to Miami, but you want to trade Deng for young players who aren't going to be anywhere near as good. Doesn't seem like those two things fit together, and it's the crux of the situation Bulls ownership is in.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Yeah that's a good point but thats why i said if the Bulls can get a vet like Ariza with the lottery pick in a possible Deng trade that may help in losing some of the experience that Deng brought to the table. Remember Ariza won a title with the Lakers and has been pretty descent on every team he's been on. His game kinda similars Dengs accept Ariza has better ball handles and can create his own shot getting to the rim.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    It appears that Deng has been in precipitous decline since at least the first of this year.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Yeah that's true but lets not forget, he's coming off of being a 2 time all star...don't know how that happened...but then again, that's just how bad the east has been. This is why the Heat has won 27 straight games, mostly because of the bad teams in the eastern conference. Had the 72 win Bulls team played in todays NBA I'm sure they would be the team contesting the Lakers 33 game winning streak.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Yes, Deng has played his best ball and may even be in decline this season. His shooting percentages have been way down last 2 years.

    Last season was the time to move Deng, he had 2 years left on his contact and the draft was STRONG. Now only 1 year remains, so Deng will be negotiating an extension beginning this July-October.

    I know it sounds like I'm hating on Deng. He is a nice fit on this Bulls team - at half his current salary perhaps which won't happen if we remember Deng's last contract negotiation. He refused to sign an extension and played out the year. I would assume he does the same next season so hope Bulls trade him if they can.

    Isn't the FO supposed to plan in advance, be able to judge talent and prepare for the future?

  • In reply to Motoman:

    I have suggested for some time that that should/would be our closing lineup once Rose returns. It is still early to figure out what next year will look like, but that lineup won't happen as long as we are stuck with the BozoHole.

    Butler clearly has to work on his shooting to even be considered as a starting shooting guard. and despite his overall defensive prowess, to me he seems to defend better at the small forward position. All of which leads me to believe that he is a small forward more than a shooting guard.

    Clearly, figuring out what Butler is, starter or 6-7th man, shooting guard or small forward is crucial for the Bulls strategic plan going forward, assuming of course that there is one.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    Butler's probably the type of guy who can ply at the 2 on defense but doesn't necessarily give you everything you want from a 2 on offense.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    There still seems to be some hope though. His shooting seemed to be substantially better already than it was last year. His shot LOOKS great, but he seems to hesitate a lot of the time instead of just going up and shooting it. Still, I can't argue that it would be ideal to get a true shooting guard and use Butler as the first man off the bench to spell some minutes at the 2 and 3.

  • In reply to Motoman:

    Also, I feel as though the Bulls could be an ideal destination choice for Kevin Martin if they can clear up some cap room. Martin has said numerous times how much he loves it in OKC because he isn't the focal point on offense and how he is getting to the point in his career that he wants to play for a contender. He would be a perfect complement to DRose and the rest of the Bull's core. Can shoot the three, handle the ball, and be a much better secondary scorer than Boozer/Deng. Not sure how the bad the Thunder's payroll situation looks compared to the Bulls, but I would hope that a slightly higher offer could pry him away from the Thunder.

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