Butler rises to the occasion in Deng's absence


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.

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

Bobby Portis relishing his chance as starter

A milk carton was a more likely place to find Bobby Portis than on a basketball floor playing big minutes for the majority of his second season.

He could often be found in the locker room before games and listening to the older players talk to the media afterward, trying his best to fight off the frustration and admitted confusion that comes with the regression of not getting playing time.

When Portis did play, he looked nothing like the confident and borderline cocky rookie who often referred to himself in the third person in interviews. He didn't know when he would play, how long he would be out there or even worse, what was expected of him.

The trade of Taj Gibson at the deadline — preceded by the temporary benching of Nikola Mirotic — put Portis back in the spotlight and he's intent on making the most of it during the last 23 games of the regular season.

"It's fun. You know go out there every day just to know that it's another day I'm going to play," Portis said. "That's the biggest thing for me. I feel like that's already a confidence builder right there, just coming into every game knowing that I'm in the rotation. It's great fun to go out there and play."

It's no secret the front office the Bulls want Portis to succeed and not add him to the ledger of some of the first-round disappointments that can be recalled in recent memory.

The trade of Gibson was certainly underlined with the mantra that Portis should play and the way was going to be cleared for Portis, one way or another. Scoring 19 with eight rebounds against the Celtics on national TV right before the All-Star break probably gave Portis enough validation considering he was thrust into the starting lineup at power forward soon after.

"I don't care about nobody judging me," Portis said. "At the end of the day I'm going to play basketball. That's my job. I'm going to go out there and do the things I do well. I feel like sometimes people misconstrue just because you don't play and they can say some things like that. I don't really care about anybody judging me at this point. At the end of the day I'm still going to be Bobby Portis at the end of the day."

Well, clearly, the third person thing hasn't left the second-year forward, but he said he stayed in the gym waiting on his opportunity, even through a quick but confusing stint to Hoffman Estates to the D-League.

"Just being hungry. Humble and hungry," Portis said. "You know one thing I always strive off of is being humble and hungry. That kept me sane. My mom, I talked to her a lot. She kept me grounded. It's kind of tough not playing and going through the season knowing that some games you might play, you might not play. You know it's about waiting your turn, but at the same time you have to keep working."

Being the fifth big in Fred Hoiberg's rotation didn't leave him a lot of room for Portis to get much run or even find a rhythm, and like many others who've found themselves out of the rotation unexpectedly, it was without much of an explanation.

"Nah, I didn't really know what I could do to get minutes," Portis said. "The one thing that I know that I always do is just come in here every day, work as hard as I can, let the dominos fall how they fall. Every day I come in here, just bust my butt for some minutes, but sometimes it wouldn't work."

Now that he has found himself into Hoiberg's good graces, his improving range has allowed both units to play similiarly.

"I think Bobby has done a real nice job," Hoiberg said. "He was a huge part of our win against Boston in our game right before the break. He just goes out and plays with so much energy. What I really like about him right now is he has no hesitation on his shot. He's stepping into his 3 with good rhythm."

Bulls Road Ahead: Keeping the momentum rolling

Bulls Road Ahead: Keeping the momentum rolling

The Bulls are currently playing their best basketball of the year, winning four straight, including three against Eastern Conference contenders.

How will Fred Hoiberg's group continue this pace during a daunting March schedule? Insider Vincent Goodwill and Mark Schanowski break it down from the Advocate Center in this edition of the Bulls Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers.

Check it all out in the video above.