Could Butler be a cure for the Bulls' woes?

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Could Butler be a cure for the Bulls' woes?

HOUSTON In the 13 minutes per game hes played thus far this season, Jimmy Butler has averaged a modest 4.7 points per game, nothing that would suggest that the second-year swingman is capable of dramatically changing the Bulls fortunes, for better or worse.

However, the stated objectives that he brings to the court in that scant playing time defense, energy and when hes open, taking and making shots says otherwise.

It would be a stretch to say that Butler is the caliber of reserve that can rescue the Bulls if they dig themselves a hole on a given night, but his athleticism his high-flying finishes, whether in transition or a follow-up dunk in traffic, have been arguably the most exciting Bulls plays of this Derrick Rose-less season and commitment to defense are, at minimum, a welcome change of pace.

Still, while the country-music aficionado has managed to carve out a small niche for himself, it appears that for the time being, hell have to be content with the action he receives.

Well see how it unfolds. A lot of it is going to be based on matchups, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said about his rotation, before moving on to Butler specifically. Depending on what the game needs. If its energy, then well maybe look that Butlers way, but theres a lot of things that our bench guys have to do better, too.

Indeed, it isnt as if late-first round picks who are nailed to the bench on veteran teams in their rookie seasons-- without the benefit of training camp -- are perfect, nor are they expected to be. But Thibodeau, for every Omer Asik (who the Bulls face for the first time as an opponent Wednesday), a young player who has gradually earned his trust and playing time, theres a Marco Belinelli, a veteran who struggles out of the gates, but the coach isnt willing to give up on just yet.

Its understandable to a point, as the Bulls desperately need outside shooting and Belinelli, even when hes not making an impact, at least provides a threat to stretch the defense. After the free-agent acquisitions miserable preseason, hes actually made 9-of-23 attempts from behind the three-point arc for a 39.1-percent mark second on the team to fellow backup guard Nate Robinsons 40-percent shooting from deep, on 12 makes out of 30 shots and Thibodeau knows that by sticking with him, if not now, then later in the season, keeping Belinellis confidence up will pay major dividends.

But while hes made some progress defensively, more often than not in Belinellis nearly 17 minutes a night, the shooting guard still struggles with his matchups and unlike second-unit predecessor Kyle Korver, he doesnt make up for it with savvy team defense, hustle plays or other intangibles, let alone elite marksmanship. On those evenings, similar to when Thibodeau gives starting power forward Carlos Boozer an earlier hook in favor of the more defensive-minded Taj Gibson, but on a smaller scale, its worth giving Butler a shot.

Stuck behind ironman starter Luol Deng, the reigning and current league leader in minutes per game at 40.1 a night teammate Joakim Noah is fourth, at 38.8 an outing Butler must wait until Deng plays his typical 18 consecutive minutes at the outset of each game before entering the lineup. Sometimes, such as in last weeks overtime win in Phoenix, where he notched six points and two steals to turn the tide before halftime to begin the Circus Trip, he makes an immediate, obvious impact.

On other occasions, whether he simply doesnt have it going right away or the situation calls for him to more subtly blend in, such as in the Bulls most recent loss Sunday in Portland, where he was just part of a unit that played improved defense and attempted an ultimately-failed comeback against the Trail Blazers, Butlers worth isnt as clear to the naked eye.

The Lone Star State native, who will play his first professional game in Houston, the NBA city closest to his hometown of Tomball, Tex., Wednesday, was penciled in to be a replacement for Ronnie Brewer currently a Knicks starter, Brewer either put significant work into his outside-shooting ability or now has the freedom and confidence to showcase it more in New York and while he has many similarities to one of his mentors, Butlers lack of experience puts him at a disadvantage.

Given his hard-luck background Butlers story has been well-chronicled and the recent history of success stories from his alma mater, Marquette, perhaps his relative youth should be disregarded because of a track record that reflects upon him favorably. Without discounting the likes of Knicks sharpshooter Steve Novak, journeyman point guard Travis Diener and of course, Chicago native Dwyane Wade, all of whom played collegiately during current Indiana University coach Tom Creans tenure, the likes of undrafted rookie-turned-NBA starter Wesley Matthews of the Trail Blazers, Butlers mentor upon arrival on campus, and rookie Jae Crowder, a second-round pick getting rotation minutes in Dallas, illustrate that with enough talent, the requisite toughness needed to play for Buzz Williams program in Milwaukee can translate to, at the least, being a hard-nosed NBA regular.

Well, he followed me around everywhere I went, so somethings supposed to rub off, Matthews joked about Butler to CSNChicago.com, adding a playful, competitive and semi-profane jab at his fellow Golden Eagle, before turning serious. He works hard, hes talented and he wants to get better. Thats his best thing going for him.

I think the skys the limit for him. With opportunity, he can show that he can play, continued the Portland swingman, who burned the Bulls for 21 points Sunday and threw in a late-game block on Butler, for good measure. He can defend. I think he showed that already. Hes got a nice mid-range game. Just with confidence and opportunity, hell be all right.

Hopefully Thibodeau sees it that way because as opposed to 19-year-old rookie Marquis Teague, this was not slated to be a developmental season for Butler, who toiled away at the Berto Center all offseason and excelled at the NBAs summer league in Las Vegas. For a team that could use energy when upon hitting its ever more-frequent lulls, a dose of athleticism and strong individual defense against some of the games elite wing scorers, let alone stealing a minute or two of rest for Deng when things are going well, Butler would seem to be the cure to ensure the Bulls, a .500 squad at the moment, dont enter an early-season malaise.

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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