Jimmy Butler scores 52 in new-look Bulls’ victory over Hornets

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Photos from the game on Jan. 2, 2017, at the United Center.

Back in training camp, fielding a question about the championship expectations that had greeted the Bulls in every preseason since their unexpected 2011 run to the Eastern Conference finals, Wade got real.

"When you’re coming off a season where you don’t make the playoffs, your goal can’t be winning a championship," Wade said. "Your goal has to be, day to day, making steps to improve yourself so you can get to a point where you’re a playoff team. I’m not going to put a ceiling on us. But we’re not thinking long term with so many new guys."

Wade spoke these truths in October, well before the Bulls’ 118-111 victory over the Hornets on Monday night that continued the subtle shift to a youth movement.

But as long as Jimmy Butler keeps painting masterpieces, the Bulls will keep a playoff pulse.

Butler scored a season-high 52 points, his third 40-point outing of the season and one off his career high. He sank 21 of his season-high 22 free-throw attempts. He shot 9-for-13 in the second half and scored 17 in the fourth quarter, drawing "MVP! MVP!" chants down the stretch.

Butler did it all, finishing with 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals. He even had a four-point play. That’s now five straight games with double-digit free-throw attempts.

Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic delivered huge defensive plays on consecutive possessions down the stretch — Gibson recording a block and Mirotic a steal — as the Bulls snapped a two-game skid in advance of Wednesday’s game against the Cavaliers.

Even with Wade missing his first game of the season because of an injury, a swollen left knee that isn’t considered serious, Rajon Rondo never left the bench. Carter-Williams and Jerian Grant split point guard duties. And rookie Denzel Valentine backed up Doug McDermott, who started for Wade at shooting guard, until rolling his left ankle in the third quarter.

There haven’t been any Paul Zipser sightings yet because the Eastern Conference continues to be an avalanche of average beyond the Cavaliers, Raptors, Celtics and — on some nights — these Hornets. But at one point in the second quarter, the Bulls fielded a lineup of Carter-Williams, Grant, Valentine, Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio.

During that stretch, Valentine sank three straight 3-pointers for his career-high nine points. But leading a third-quarter fast break, Valentine badly rolled his left ankle while stepping on Nicolas Batum’s foot. Replays showed a scene eerily reminiscent of Joakim Noah’s gruesomely sprained ankle in the 2012 playoffs versus the 76ers.

But after exiting the game and changing shoes, Valentine walked and jumped around in the bench area without limping. Still, he was ruled out for the remainder of the game, and coach Fred Hoiberg said the ankle is tender.

"I thought Denzel was great," Hoiberg said. "The first time he touched the ball says everything you need to know about the kid — fires up a 3. He’s not afraid of the moment."

Mirotic, McDermott — whom Hoiberg utilized in the post — and Carter-Williams reached double figures as the Bulls tied a season high in points. Carter-Williams added nine rebounds as the Bulls pummeled the Hornets for a 44-35 rebounding advantage.

Kemba Walker’s 34 points and 11 rebounds led the Hornets, who were without Cody Zeller and Marco Belinelli.

"It’s an understatement to say Jimmy was phenomenal," Hoiberg said. "He did it every which way. I loved his aggressiveness. We needed it."

Twitter @kcjhoop

This article was sourced from http://camuuudnews.com