Butler rises to the occasion in Deng's absence

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Butler rises to the occasion in Deng's absence

BOSTONIt only occurred because starter Luol Deng had to leave the game with a right-hamstring injury, but second-year Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler not only played over 25 minutes in Friday nights overtime win over the Celtics, he was a major reason why the visitors prevailed.

Butler scored six consecutive points for the Bulls in the extra sessiona dunk, layup and two clutch free throwsas part of his 13 points on the evening, prompting his teammates to celebrate him in the jubilant visiting locker room at TD BankNorth Garden nearly as much as Marco Belinelli, who hit the game-winning shot in the 100-99 victory.

It was really fun. Being out there with my guys, man. I love this team and its crazy that they have faith in me to be out there with them, and want me out there with them and when I score a basket, theyre cheering, Keep goingsee? Butler said afterwards, as his teammates, from Nate Robinson to Rip Hamilton, shouted out his name as he conducted postgame interviews.

It was crazy. It was nice to know that my teammates have faith in me, to give me the ball whenever Im open and they know that I can go down there and guard, and come back and try to score another basket. Thats big for my confidence. To tell you the truth, in my head, I was like, Do what Lu does. Do what Lu does.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was also proud of Butler, who he said could start if Deng misses Saturdays contest against Memphis at the United Center.

I thought Jimmy was terrific. I thought his defense, his offense was very good, hustle plays, energy, he said. We needed every bit of it and hes not afraid of the moment. You can throw him in, in any situation and hes ready to go.

If Butler has to start in Dengs place Saturday against Memphis, the Marquette product believes hes ready to raise his level of play for extended minutes.

I think so. Be more aggressive, obviously on offense and on defense, he said. I think with more minutes comes more confidence, so itll be a sight to see.

Teammate Kirk Hinrich supported that opinion, telling CSNChicago.com, Hes played well for us all year in kind of limited minutes, pushing to get more time, but hes definitely played well for us when hes been in there.

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Who are the Bulls? The team that beat Cleveland and Toronto or lost to Dallas, Minnesota and Milwaukee?

That's the question Bulls fans are currently asking and the one Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill posed in the video above.

The Bulls have had impressive wins and shocking losses, but neither of those should be surprising at this point. The Bulls are, as Goodwill put it, consistently inconsistent.

The first half of the season has proven that Dwyane Wade still has some memorable moments left to give and Jimmy Butler continues to approach superstardom. On the downside, the drama surrounding Rajon Rondo has meant the 'three alphas' that were hyped up in the preseason haven't been the dynamic trio some Bulls fans had hoped.

Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have the shooters his system needs, but can he still rally the troops and get something out of Rondo?

Watch the video to see Goodwill's look back on the Bulls' first half and what could be ahead.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Watch as the Bulls take on the Mavericks tonight on CSN+ and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. What's Jimmy Butler got in store? On paper, Butler's performance Sunday night against the Grizzlies was nothing special. In fact, in many ways it fell short of his season averages. But Jimmy G. Buckets was on his game in the fourth quarter when the Bulls needed him most, helping them to a crucial road victory in Memphis. Tonight a fast start will be key against a Mavericks team that struggles to play from behind.

2. Dirk Nowitzki is back. The Mavericks are finally getting back to full-strength, and the main contributor to that is Dirk Nowtizki. The future Hall-of-Famer is finally rounding into form after an Achilles injury kept him out of the lineup most of the year. In his last three games, Nowitzki is averaging 20.3 points on 49 percent shooting.

3. There was at least some rumblings that the Bulls might have considered going after Ames native Harrison Barnes this past offseason. Instead, Barnes wound up in Dallas a potential building block for the Mavs. And he's looked pretty solid through the season's first half. Barnes is averaging 20.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and nearly a steal per game in 36 minutes. It'll be a fun matchup watching him go against Jimmy Butler.

4. More 3-pointers on the way? It's easy to say that a 31-point outing will get you going, but maybe Doug McDermott can build on his career night against the Grizzlies. He hit 3 of 6 triples, made 10 of 11 free throws and even added six rebounds and a(nother) block. The Bulls will be able to run more against the Mavs than they were the Grizzlies, meaning more spacing for McDermott to find open shots. If he's hitting early, the Bulls are in good shape.

5. A three-game winning streak on the line. The last time the Bulls won three straight -- earlier this month -- it pushed them over .500. Now they've got a chance to reel off a third straight and again get back over .500. As poorly as the Bulls have played as a whole, the Eastern Conference is wide open at the bottom half of the playoff bracket, so these are opportunities they don't want to miss against a struggling team.

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