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.

 

AP Source: Thunder trading Dakari Johnson to Orlando

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder are trading reserve center Dakari Johnson to the Orlando Magic.

A person with knowledge of the details confirmed the move to The Associated Press on Friday. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Yahoo Sports, which first reported the deal, said Oklahoma City will get guard Rodney Purvis in the deal. Purvis averaged 6.0 points and 1.7 rebounds in 16 appearances for the Magic last season. The Orlando Sentinel said the Thunder also sent cash to the Magic.

Johnson played 31 games last season for the Thunder with six starts. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.1 rebounds per game. The 7-footer averaged 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 10 games for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate, last season.

Center Alex Len reportedly reaches contract deal with Atlanta

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Five years ago, the Phoenix Suns had just drafted Alex Len at No. 5 overall and thought he would be the big man in the middle the team would build around. It didn’t work out that way, he never averaged double figures in either scoring or rebounding for a season. While Len has said he thought he was not used correctly, and there has been plenty of change and inconsistency in Phoenix, he never grabbed hold of the top job, either.

When the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 last June, there was no chance they were bringing back Len next season. The unrestricted free agent is headed to Atlanta instead, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Free-agent center Alex Len has agreed to a two-year, $8.5 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Len received interest from several teams in recent days before finalizing an agreement with the Hawks on Saturday.

Len is not going to space the floor, 73 percent of his shots came at the rim last season, but he’s become an efficient finisher there. He is good as a roll man, will work off the ball, and can post guys up on offense. He’s also strong on the offensive glass and gets points via putbacks. His game is not that of a modern NBA center, but he’s become efficient at what he does.

Len is going to have to earn his minutes in the ATL, rebuilding team or not there is some quality along the front line. John Collins, who made the All-Rookie team last season and was one of the standouts of Summer League, will start up front, possibly at the four with Dewayne Dedmon at the five. The just-drafted Omari Spellman showed potential at Summer League and could be the backup four, which means Len gets the backup center minutes.

Len is getting his new chance on a team that can give him some run, we’ll see if a change of scenery is what he needed.

Gordon Hayward posts new workout video, he is moving pretty well

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Player workout videos on Instagram are a lot like how your life (or, your parent’s life) appears on Facebook — everyone looks their best, is always having fun and doing something interesting, and the daily grime of life has been scrubbed away.

That said, Boston’s Gordon Hayward looks good — he seems to be moving very well — in this latest workout video he posted.

It’s a good sign to see Hayward moving like that in July, months before that reconstructed ankle needs to be put to the test on the NBA hardwood.

With Hayward and Kyrie Irving healthy, the Celtics start the season as the favorites in the East — but Toronto is a sudden, serious challenger if Kawhi Leonard is all the way back and healthy. Philadelphia is talented and in that mix as well if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can take strides forward with their game.

The top of the East is going to be very interesting next season.

Montrezl Harrell reportedly reaches deal to return to Clippers

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The Clippers liked Montrezl Harrell last season (he came from Houston in the Chris Paul trade), he averaged 11 points a game for the team with a very efficient PER of 24.7.

He was one restricted agent some around the league thought another team would try to poach, but in a tight market nobody was making an offer because the Clippers were just expected to match. So the Clippers and Harrell (and his agent) sat down and figured out something that worked for both sides, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The deal is fully guaranteed for both years, according to the report. That’s a fair price for his services, and Harrell gets back on the market in two years when the salary cap will have gone up by more than $15 million (at least by the NBA’s early predictions). He will have more options on 2020.

The Clippers are now just $500 below the luxury tax. They also have 16 contracts, which is bad news for C.J. Wilson and his non-guaranteed deal. (Technically Patrick Beverley has a non-guaranteed contract as well, but if healthy he will be back.)

For a couple of seasons, this is a good fit. Harrell will bring some athleticism and bounce to a frontcourt rotation that already includes Tobias Harris, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marcin Gortat, and Boban Marjanovic. The Clippers are a pretty good team, the problem is in the West pretty good could be the 10 or 11 seed. The conference is that deep and brutal.