Watch Jimmy Butler drop 52 to help Bulls top Hornets

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CHICAGO (AP) — Following a year of inconsistency and disappointment, the Chicago Bulls entered 2017 with plenty of resolutions.

There’s one thing, however, they are hoping remains the same – the production of Jimmy Butler.

Butler scored 52 points and outdueled Kemba Walker, carrying Chicago in a 118-111 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.

Butler was a point shy of his career high, which he got Jan. 14, 2016 at Philadelphia. He scored 20 points in the first half and 17 in the game’s final four minutes.

“It’s an understatement to say he was phenomenal. He did it in any which way,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He just took what the defense gave him and obviously made huge plays down the stretch.”

Butler also had 12 rebounds and six assists while shooting 21 of 22 from the free-throw line. He has scored at least 25 points in four straight games, and his performance Monday surpassed his previous season high of 40 points, which he notched Wednesday against Brooklyn.

“I was just playing basketball,” Butler said. “I didn’t even know how many points I had. I just had a groove. Coach kept drawing up the same play.”

Walker went blow-for-blow with Butler for much of the game, boosting his All-Star candidacy with 34 points and a season-high 11 rebounds. Walker, who scored 37 points against Cleveland on Saturday, notched consecutive 30-point games for the first time since March 7-9, 2016.

Still, Hornets coach Steve Clifford saw room for improvement from everyone – his star included.

“(Walker) did a good job on offense,” Clifford said. “But we have to try on defense, all of them. Our defense is soft and they pick and choose when they want to play. It’s not going to work.”

Charlotte, which entered Monday ranked among the top defensive teams in the NBA at 102.6 points allowed per game, has surrendered 119.5 over its last two losses.

Nikola Mirotic had 12 points and Michael Carter-Williams finished with 10 points and nine rebounds for Chicago.

Nic Batum, who recorded a triple-double in Charlotte’s victory over Chicago on Dec. 23, had 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. Jeremy Lamb added 15 points off the bench.

Charlotte led Chicago for much of the second half until Butler’s three-point play with four minutes remaining tied the game at 100. Carter-Williams’ jumper at 2:33 gave the Bulls a lead they would not relinquish.

STILL NO LOVE FOR RONDO

Rajon Rondo, who indicated he may ask for a trade after being benched both Friday and Saturday, again received no floor time in Monday’s win. The 11th-year guard is averaging 7.2 points and 7.1 assists per game.

TIP-INS

Hornets: Cody Zeller entered the NBA’s concussion protocol Monday after taking an elbow to the head in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s contest with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has no timetable for return. Roy Hibbert started in place of the injured Zeller. … Marco Belinelli (left ankle sprain) missed his fifth straight game.

Bulls: Dwyane Wade sat with swelling in his left knee. The 34-year-old veteran noticed the swelling Saturday night after playing in back-to-back defeats. Hoiberg does not believe the issue warrants an MRI, and Wade could return Wednesday against Cleveland. … Rookie Denzel Valentine, who had played just four total minutes over his last seven games, played 18 minutes and hit his first three 3-pointers, finishing with nine points. He exited with an ankle injury in the second half.

 

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat value.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.

LeBron James still striving to surpass Michael Jordan

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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LeBron James has discussed chasing Michael Jordan’s “ghost,” motivating himself by trying surpass Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.

Just 27 points behind Jordan for the all-time playoff scoring lead – a record he could break in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 5 tonight – LeBron is again discussing that pursuit.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

“It’s just a personal goal of mine,” James said Thursday before Cavs shootaround in preparation of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics. “It has nothing to do with passing the rings, passing the points, passing MVPs. It’s just my personal goal to keep me motivated — that’s all.”

“You guys are going to have the conversations about who is greatest of all time and things of that nature,” James said. “It doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, it’s so funny that the conversation is always talked about in the NBA about who is the greatest but it’s never talked about in the NFL about who is the greatest quarterback. It’s just like: [Dan] Marino, [John] Elway, [Peyton] Manning and [Tom] Brady. All great quarterbacks, you know — and it should be the same for us.

Jordan or LeBron? Save your hot takes. LeBron just burnt them all.

The greatest quarterback of all time is never debated? Claiming that is now the hottest take in the entire realm of the Jordan-LeBron debate.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue: Kyrie Irving feeling ‘good’ after ankle injury

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BOSTON (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says that Kyrie Irving‘s left ankle is feeling “good” in advance of Cleveland’s Game 5 matchup Thursday night with the Celtics.

Irving was moving around and putting up shots during the Cavs’ morning shootaround.

The All-Star rolled his ankle in the third quarter of Game 4 when he stepped on Terry Rozier‘s foot. Irving was able to stay on the floor and finish the game, scoring a career playoff-high 42 points.

Cleveland leads Boston 3-1 and can wrap up its third straight Eastern Conference title Thursday night.

Several Celtics are also fighting injuries as they try to stave off elimination.

Jaylen Brown is listed as questionable with a right hip pointer. Jae Crowder is probable with a left groin strain, and Amir Johnson is probable with a right shoulder sprain.

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.