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Bulls: Butler challenges himself to be better defensively in Milwaukee

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Bulls: Butler challenges himself to be better defensively in Milwaukee

There’s only so many minutes to play in a playoff game, so much energy to expound before the human body says “no”, but Jimmy Butler is taking it upon himself to put more pressure on himself to perform at a higher level.

Yes, the man who has missed a total of 56 seconds of available playing time in the fourth quarter and overtime in the last four games is asking more from himself as the Bulls prepare to travel to Milwaukee to put away the pesky Bucks in Game 6 Thursday.

And if he has to cut back on his offensive production, or at least attention to that end of the floor, so be it. Butler, at least verbally, is taking the mantle of responsibility for the Bulls' lack of energy".

“Be the person to get us going, on both ends, especially the defensive end,” Butler said. “I'm supposed to be the one setting the tone. And I haven't done that and that's the reason we've gotten off to slow starts.”

[MORE: Bulls offense unable to solve versatile Bucks defense]

Khris Middleton has given the Bulls fits, and point guard Michael Carter-Williams had his first good game in Game 5. Butler could wind up defending any one of three Bucks' scorers tomorrow.

“I really do have to get back to it. I'm not saying it because the cameras are on me right now. I'm saying it because that's what it'll take to win. Somebody has to lead us defensively.”

Butler made clear he doesn’t think the Bulls have a leadership problem, and after all, they’re up 3-2 in this series despite the semi-panic that has taken over in assessing this team. But his words about accepting the pressure and leading the Bulls at least gives way to the belief that something is missing.

“I have to be a better leader. I think I'm shying back on some aspects of the game,” Butler said. “I don't think there's a leadership void. I think everybody needs to be more of a leader. Not just one guy but everybody.”

Butler only trails LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis and Stephen Curry in terms of playoff scoring at 26.6 points a game, so if he’s reallocating his energy, someone will have to pick up the slack.

[MORE: President Barack Obama staying loyal to Bulls in NBA Playoffs]

“I guess give some to take some,” Butler said. “I think we score the ball well enough. If I give all my energy on defense and get some stops, the other four guys will score.”

Pau Gasol has stated ad nauseam about the Bulls’ slow starts and lack of aggression to start games, as the Bucks’ energy and athleticism always seems to catch the Bulls by surprise, so Butler claims he’s going to do something about it.

He didn’t agree with the assertion that the Bulls’ defense has gotten soft, but nobody can deny the Bucks have played tougher and more aggressive in the last two games at the very least.

“Non-aggressive, inconsistent, there's a lot of words besides soft,” Butler said.

After talks with his brother and trainer, Butler came to the conclusion that he has to single-handedly match what the Bucks are doing instinctively defensively, with the hopes his teammates will follow.

“You can sit here and say we have to do this, we gotta block out, we have to rebound, we gotta guard,” Butler said. “But if I'm saying it and not doing it, ain't nobody paying attention to it. So If I'm preaching it and showing I'm capable of doing it, everybody will follow suit.”

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Perhaps his disastrous Game 5 on offense brought on the self-reflection, where he shot 5-for-21 in 46 minutes, giving life to the old-but-new concerns about his playing time (averaging 44.2 minutes this series). And the Bucks have said, albeit quietly, that Butler looks worn down in the fourth quarter.

“They don’t know how I feel. They’re not in my skin or my shoes,” Butler said. “I’m in great enough shape where I can handle the heavy minutes. I never complain. And I’ve got to produce, heavy minutes or not. I got to make shots, make plays happen.’’

He played all of the fourth quarter and two overtimes in Game 3, and sat for 56 seconds in the fourth quarter of Game 4. He says it’s affected him, although not the way people have claimed.

“I do, but not because of the minutes. I’m in a different role,” Butler said. “I think teams have to scout me and be ready for what I bring to the table, and I think that wears down more than anything, that they know where I’m going to get the ball and things like that. But that’s part of the game. I’m not tired. Like I said, I’ve got to produce. That’s all I’m worried about on the floor.’’

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

Hoiberg, Bulls already facing touch decisions on Opening Night

The Bulls’ starting point guard missing the team’s season opener is less than ideal, but that is the dilemma Fred Hoiberg and company are faced with.
 
Hoiberg made the announcement during shoot around that Kris Dunn would miss the first game of his third NBA season for personal reasons, but noted that his absence is “excused.” 
 
The Bulls will turn to Cameron Payne as they get set to play the Sixers in Philadelphia Thursday night. The 24-year-old guard out of Murray State will be tasked with running the offense against one of the better defensive teams in the league.
 
Because of injuries and the numbers game at guard, Payne hasn’t had a chance to show Bulls fans much since he came over from Oklahoma City in a trade that sent Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder.
 
“I feel like I can be way better,” Payne said when asked about the opportunity to show what he can do. “I know I didn’t make a lot of shots but it’s really not about that. It’s about getting my team involved and make sure everyone gets the ball in their spots to contribute.”
 
Payne showed flashes over the last 22 games of the 2017-18 season (14 starts), shooting 42 percent from three and averaging 4.6 assists per game in that stretch. The shooting stroke didn’t show up early in the preseason for Payne. 
 
He was better in the team’s final exhibition against Denver and has shown enough to Hoiberg to earn the starting nod. He’ll have his work cut out for him tonight.
 
“Obviously we’ve been working on different coverages based on having a full roster, but things like this happen,” Hoiberg said when asked what this does to his game prep. “It’s going to be electric in here. They’re going to come out and play extremely hard and extremely physical. That’s who they are and we have to be ready for that. It’s a little bit of shock and awe with (the Sixers). You have to weather that first storm and hopefully give ourselves a chance with great effort.”
 
After Payne, the Bulls will have Ryan Arcidiacono as the first point guard off the bench. They’ll also have the services of newcomer Tyler Ulis, who will be in uniform tonight. Hoiberg mentioned that he feels comfortable with Zach Lavine bringing the ball up as well. He also mentioned that Jabari Parker will have his hands on the ball an awful lot with the team’s second unit.
 
The season hasn’t even started yet and the Bulls are already missing several key players. After an impressive rookie season, Lauri Markkanen will start the season on the shelf with a high grade lateral elbow sprain. Denzel Valentine will also miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury. The team may have Cristiano Felicio, also dealing with an ankle injury, depending on his pregame workout goes.
 
“It’s not ideal but it is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “It happens at this level. You just have to go out and do the best job you can. It’s an opportunity for our guys to step up with two of our better players out of the lineup – really three with Denzel as a guy that can make plays in that second unit.”   

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

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USA TODAY

Bulls will open against Sixers without Kris Dunn

The Bulls faced a steep test opening their 2018-19 campaign against the Philadelphia 76ers.

That task won't become any easier with Kris Dunn missing the game for personal reasons, head coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters at shootaround on Thursday.

Dunn's exlusion opens up an opportunity for Cameron Payne, who will enter the starting lineup. Payne started 14 games for the Bulls last season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.6 assists in 26.5 minutes.

It also moves up Ryan Arcidiacono and Tyler Ulis, both of whom will be active, in the rotation. Expect both to see at least some playing time, especially with Denzel Valentine also out while recovering from a sprained ankle suffered in training camp.

It could mean an even bigger evening for Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. The reigning Rookie of the Year posted 19 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists in Philly's season-opening loss to the Celtics on Tuesday.