In Jimmy Butler’s Return to Chicago, Wolves Should Gore Bulls

Matthew Jordan

Thursday, February 8, 2018 7:41 PM UTC

Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018 7:41 PM UTC

On paper, Friday night’s Timberwolves at Bulls matchup looks rather bland because Minnesota is so superior, but the big story line is Jimmy Butler’s return to the Windy City.

Minnesota Timberwolves at Chicago BullsFree NBA Pick: TimberwolvesBest Line Offered: BetOnline

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Friday is homecoming night around the NBA. At 7 p.m. ET, the Detroit Pistons host the Los Angeles Clippers in a game ESPN picked up because it’s the first time that Blake Griffin will face his former Clippers teammates since that shocking deal to Detroit late last month. Jason Lake will have a preview of that game here at SBR.

In addition, ESPN also picked up the 9:30 ET game between the Timberwolves and Bulls because it’s a homecoming for Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler to Chicago. It’s the first meeting of the season between the teams headed in opposite directions largely because of that Butler trade. The Timberwolves have won the past four in the series. Last year in Chicago, they overcame a 21-point deficit to win 99-94. Zach LaVine led the Wolves with 24 points – he’s now with the Bulls. Butler had 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists against his future team.

Minnesota has covered four of its past five trips to Chicago.

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Welcome Back, Jimmy!

It’s not often you can call an NBA trade a true win-win for both teams, but that’s the case for the 2017 draft night deal that saw Chicago trade its best player, the All-Star Butler, and the No. 16 pick in that draft to Minnesota for LaVine, young guard Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick. The Bulls were originally ripped for that trade.

Butler is an All-Star again and playing like an MVP candidate, averaging 22.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists along with his usual excellent defense. The team has a plus/minus rating of plus-332 when Butler is on the court this season. He also has taken over leadership, which is something that young Wolves stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins needed.

The Timberwolves (34-23 SU, 28-27-2 ATS) haven’t made the playoffs since 2004 but are a lock this season as they sit fourth in the Western Conference. Is the team good enough to beat the Rockets or Warriors in a series? No, but good enough to beat everyone else. It’s also a Chicago homecoming for power forward Taj Gibson, a very popular player who was traded last season by the Bulls to Oklahoma City and then signed with the Wolves and former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau this offseason.

Minnesota comes off a tough loss, 140-138 in overtime at Cleveland on Wednesday. Butler had a potential winning shot late in OT blocked by LeBron James, who then hit the winning jumper at the buzzer over Butler. What can you do? LeBron does those things against even the NBA’s best. Butler finished with 35 six assists and five rebounds, while Towns had his league-leading 47th double-double with 30 points and 10 rebounds.

Chicago (18-35 SU, 29-23-1 ATS) dealt Butler because it wanted to tank this season and build around a high 2018 draft pick, LaVine, Dunn and that 2017 No. 7 overall pick, which became Lauri Markkanen. He has been one of the NBA’s best rookies. The Finn has missed the past three games for the birth of his child but will return Friday. Dunn was playing terrific basketball until he suffered a concussion on Jan. 17, and he remains out until likely after the All-Star break. LaVine got a late start to the season due to a torn ACL suffered last February but is averaging 15.6 points as he shakes off the rust. LaVine has scored at least 20 points in the last three games, one shy of his career high.

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Portland has traded Noah Vonleh and cash to Chicago for the rights to Milocan Rakovic, league sources tell ESPN.

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 8, 2018

That trio is a nice start to a rebuild, and the Bulls helped themselves from a tanking perspective last week by trading leading scorer Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans for a 2018 first-round pick. Chicago has gone into the tank without him and Dunn, losing seven straight games. In this case, it pays to lose. The Bulls made a trade on Thursday (see Tweet above), but it won’t have any impact on this game.

This game will be personal to Butler, and to a lesser extent Gibson and Thibodeau. All three will get some love from the Chicago crowd. The Bulls just aren’t the same without Mirotic and Dunn as they have failed to cover their past six. Minnesota has covered four of its past five after a loss. Give the points here for a Friday NBA pick.

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