Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Bulls bank on Jimmy Butler’s playmaking


LOS ANGELES —We understand, if you’re Megyn Kelly you didn’t have time to catch any NBA games Thursday. Even if that would have been a better use of your time. So here is what you need to know from a Thursday night around the Association.

1) Jimmy Butler‘s playmaking key to Bulls’ evolution. Pau Gasol is still incredibly skilled at age 35 and is going to put up points nightly. Derrick Rose may not be able to take over a game the way he did pre-injuries, but he can still carve up a defense for stretches. Both did just that against the Lakers Thursday — Gasol had 21 points, Rose 16 points and five assists (and he was inserted back in the game in the fourth to quell a Lakers’ push to make it a game again).

But it is Jimmy Butler’s playmaking that turns Chicago from “nice team” into a real threat.

That was evident Thursday in the Bulls’ win over the lowly Lakers Thursday, a 114-91. Butler led Chicago with 21 points and 10 assists, and he was the one that changed the dynamics of the game.

“He did everything for us tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “In that first quarter he got three steals in a row, which led to three baskets, that was huge for us. We’re putting the ball in his hands a lot, not just in isolation situations, but we’re also putting him in a lot of ball screens, he’s just making the right play and the right read, and he’s continuing to get better in that role.”

“Guys were spacing the floor well whenever I’d attack,” Butler said. “I mean, the right play was to make the pass, and they made the shot. I think it makes my job easier, Pau’s job easier, Derrick’s job easier when we’ve got guys who can space the floor and really make shots like that.”

You know it’s going to be Butler’s night when Mark Wahlberg shows up at Staples Center wearing Butler’s Jordan gear (Butler wears Air Jordans).

Playmaking against the Lakers’ league-worst defense is one thing — it was a good way for Hoiberg to break E’Twuan Moore into the starting lineup — but the Bulls have bigger tests on this seven-game road trip they just started, beginning Saturday in the same building against the Clippers. If they are going to keep winning, if they are going to be a threat in the East, it’s going to be because Butler the playmaker keeps showing up and playing like this nightly.

2) Toronto is legit, wins 10th in a row. The wait is over. All season there’s been a waiting game — who is going to break out of the pack and become a clear second best team in the East? Butler’s Bulls looked like that team for a while, but they have lacked consistency.

The Raptors have answered the challenge with a 10-game win streak, reaching that number by knocking off the Knicks 103-93 Thursday. Kyle Lowry looked very bit the All-Star starter, coming off the high pick and attacking — not just looking for buckets, he kept the ball moving. Lowry just made smart decision after smart decision, on his way to 26 points and 10 assists. DeMar DeRozan — also an All-Star — chipped in 26 of his own. The bigger key was the Raptors defense was sharp all night, the recognition and rotations were crisp — Toronto had 11 blocks, 7 steals on the night.

There’s a “you still have to prove it” element to the Raptors — they looked pretty good at points last season, only to get swept out of the first round by the Wizards. This franchise has only made the second round once and has never gone past that point. This looks like the year that changes. They look like the second best team in the East. They look legit.

3) Ryan Anderson drops 36, Pelicans knock off Kings. Remember a week ago, when we all said “check out Sacramento, they are the eight seed out West — they might have gotten it together enough to make the playoffs.” Since then they have lost three straight and are now the 10 seed. Thursday night they helped the Pelicans up Ryan Anderson’s trade value, letting him drop 36 on them as it was New Orleans who looked like a team that wants that last playoff slot in a 114-105 win. (I know, officially the Pelicans say they aren’t shopping Anderson, but they are taking calls about him from other GMs about him, so this is a matter of semantics.) Yes, Anderson was hitting threes against the Kings (five of them), but was getting shots at the bucket and shooting 50 percent from the midrange. When all his shots are falling, he’s tough to stop. And his value just goes up.

4) All-Star Game reserves selected. You the fans chose the starters for each conference for the All-Star Game Feb. 14 in Toronto. The reserves are chosen by the coaches, and those were announced on Thursday night. Here’s who got an invite:

Western Conference: Draymond Green (Golden State), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), Chris Paul (LA Clippers), Klay Thompson (Golden State), James Harden (Houston).

Eastern Conference: Paul Millsap (Atlanta), Chris Bosh (Miami), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Jimmy Butler (Chicago), John Wall (Washington), Isaiah Thomas (Boston), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto).

5) Pau Gasol felt snubbed from All-Star Game (and he was not alone). Putting together that reserve roster is hard because a handful of deserving guys are going to get snubbed. At the top of the 2016 list is Damian Lillard. But the Bulls’ Gasol — who has averaged 16 and 10 this season, and was fourth in the fan voting, losing a starting spot to Carmelo Anthony by 316 vote — is a proud man who also felt left out.

“A little disappointed, to be honest,” Gasol said about not getting an invite to Toronto. “But I’m not making the decisions, I’m not picking (the team), that’s not my job to do. All I can do is go out every night and prove the player I am. It’s unfortunate, but congrats to the guys that have been selected…. I think I’m still one of the elite players in this league and I’ll try to continue to be for as long as I can.”

If there is an injury to an Eastern Conference big selected for the game, expect Gasol to be the replacement. Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make that appointment, and he has traditionally gone down the order of the fan vote to fill spots — which puts Gasol next in line.