The Bulls host the Milwaukee Bucks tonight on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue.
Injured starters Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng won’t return to the Bulls’ lineup just yet and will miss Tuesday night’s home game against Milwaukee, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the team’s morning shootaround at the United Center.
Butler, the team’s starting shooting guard, has missed the Bulls’ past nine games with a right turf-toe injury suffered in a Nov. 18 home win over Charlotte, while Deng sat out of the last game, Saturday night’s home loss to Detroit, with a sore left Achilles’.
“It’s still tight,” Thibodeau said of Deng’s ailment. “Both guys are a lot better. They’re close but not quite there yet.”
Thibodeau described Butler as “75 percent” back from his injury after Monday’s practice at the Berto Center, a number the third-year swingman increased Tuesday morning.
“Eighty, I’d say about 80,” Butler estimated. “A little bit more to go and I’ll be able to put on my uniform.”
He wouldn’t go as far as to say that he’d play in the Bulls’ following contest, Wednesday night against the Knicks in New York.
“I don’t know. I feel good, though. I think I still have a little bit of a ways to go, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction. I’m moving a lot better, jumping off of it better. so we’ll just see every day that I wake up, how I’m feeling,” he explained. “I hate sitting out, hate missing games. I always want to play, always want to be out there, going through everything with my guys, my teammates. But they’re just constantly telling me just take my time, make sure I’m back at full strength, so you don’t re-aggravate it or make it worse.
“I don’t know if that’s being a veteran or just being smart in general. I feel like my teammates tell me to take my time, but obviously they want me out there. I think it’s trying to do what’s best for myself and what’s best for the team,” Butler went on to say. “I can run, I can jump, starting to change directions, like in a defensive push-off motion a little bit easier. But it’s just gradual steps for me.”
Butler said that the Bulls’ medical staff also will have some say-so in when he returns to the floor.
“They have a lot of input in it. Of course, I’ve never had this injury. I’ve never really been injured like this before, so they’re constantly telling me what to do. But the majority of it is how I feel. If I can go out there and perform at the highest level, then I have to go do it,” he said. “I don’t know how to react. I don’t know when it’s okay to go out there and push that limit. Whenever I get there and I feel like I can do everything to the best of my abilities, I will.”
Thibodeau said that Butler’s inactivity could affect his playing time when he does return to the Bulls’ lineup.
“I want to see where he is conditioning-wise. He’s moving a lot better, so that’s a good sign, but we’ll see how it unfolds,” the coach said. “Whatever he can give us will be a big plus. He adds a lot to our team. It might not be his normal minutes initially, but he’ll get there.”
[RELATED: Deng discusses Achilles' injury]
Butler added: “It’ll be a little bit of an issue because there’s no conditioning like basketball conditioning. You can ride the bike, you can run in the pool, but it’s different when you have to chase a guy off a screen, just run up and down the floor. So whenever I get back in that practice, that’s when I’ll start to build my conditioning back up.”
On a positive note, Thibodeau said that veteran point guard Mike James, who suffered a sprained right MCL prior to the Bulls’ triple-overtime home loss to the Pelicans last week—a game in which he still logged 10 minutes of action—is healthy and available to play against the Bucks, though he wouldn’t reveal whether the 38-year-old or 20-year-old Marquis Teague would back up starter Kirk Hinrich, similar to his refusing to divulge his starting lineup for the contest.
“You’ve got to be the same every day. I think that’s important in this league,” Thibodeau said about his team’s current predicament. “There’s times where you may have the schedule going in your favor, you may be completely healthy, and there’s times where the schedule is not going in your favor and you have injuries. The challenge is to figure out how you can win with the people you do have available. You don’t get here by accident. Everyone is capable and if we play well we’ll have a good chance to win.”