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The Bulls came face-to-face with their mortality this season as Jimmy Butler writhed around in pain in Denver over the weekend, ultimately being wheeled off to the locker room to await on MRI on his left knee.

No, Chicago wouldn’t have been booted from the NBA or immediately forfeited the remaining games on their schedule, so mortality might not be the right term, but as far as any legitimate playoff aspirations are concerned, those would’ve realistically ceased to exist.

“Sure, it’s scary,” head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters. “He took off. He heard a pop. You expect the worst when you hear that. It happened on the takeoff. I saw the film of it and it didn’t bend funny. But anytime the ligaments are intact, it’s a relief.”

Fortunately, Butler’s MRI indicated no structural damage, just a strain of the soft tissue around the knee. Although he’ll probably miss this week’s two games and may or may not play in the All-Star Game, Chicago is likely to have its leading scorer and top defender back when it returns to action on Feb. 18 at Cleveland.

After looking like the top contender to take down the Cavs and ascend to the Eastern Conference throne as recently as Jan. 7, a disastrous last 30 days have the Bulls fighting simply to make the playoffs. Since beating Boston that night, Chicago is 5-11 in its last 16 entering Monday’s game at Charlotte, the final leg of a seven-game road trip that closed out a stretch of 10 straight games in a different arenas.

The Bulls return home to close out the unofficial first half of the season against Atlanta on Wednesday, which should be another tough challenge that could ultimately bump them out of the No. 2 spot in the Central Division. Entering the week, only the Knicks and Nets have had worse runs in the East over the last 10 games.

Fortunately, with Butler receiving good news about his knee, the Bulls should be able to turn things around in a season that has already seen Joakim Noah lost for the duration and Nikola Mirotic sidelined by an appendectomy to remove a hematoma. Kirk Hinrich is finally playing regularly again and Mike Dunleavy just returned, but Chicago is still quite short-handed and likely drained. Few teams need the All-Star break more.

One positive is Derrick Rose has found his legs and could be set to be a force down the stretch. Despite the fact the Bulls have been losing, Rose has averaged 17.6 points over the last 16 games and is definitely being more aggressive. The Bulls dodged a bullet. If Rose can remain on an upward trend, Butler returns and Pau Gasol continues playing at a high level, then Chicago’s Big Three is as formidable as Cleveland’s is.

It all hinges on Butler. He’s the LeBron in the equation. If you’ve watched his season, the discrepancy between the two is nowhere near as vast as one would think.

Knicks fire Fisher

Early Monday morning, the Knicks let go of Derek Fisher.

In the second season of a relatively large contract, Fisher being fired certainly came as a surprise, one of those moves that can really only be explained if we could get in Phil Jackson’s head and decipher what he’s really thinking.

Jackson, who settled on Fisher after Steve Kerr rebuffed him to stay closer to home and coach the Golden State Warriors, said all the right things in discussing the move. He called Fisher a hard worker, essentially giving him his public blessing for future employment, but felt a change was necessary. Considering Fisher has had his dirty laundry aired due to his fight with Matt Barnes over being involved with his ex-wife, Jackson’s approval is important, but actions speak louder than words. It will be interesting to see if Fisher lands another opportunity.

His Knicks tenure ends after five consecutive losses and a 1-9 mark (2-8 ATS) over New York’s last 10 games. New York is 23-31 entering the final game before the All-Star break, a home date against the Wizards on Tuesday.

While Jackson’s actions are a little drastic, promoting trusted lieutenant Kurt Rambis gives the Knicks an opportunity to have renewed faith entering the final two months. It would be hard to believe that Carmelo Anthony wasn’t consulted, which tells you Fisher had to play a part in his dismissal beyond results.

New York plays at Brooklyn on Feb. 19 to open the season’s “second half.” Both teams are looking for new leaders, reportedly interested in Tom Thibodeau.

Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at Email: [email protected].

About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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