When Jimmy Butler emerges as the fourth announced starter for tomorrow night’s game against the Houston Rockets for his first game in nearly a month, he won’t be wearing a cape.
But Fred Hoiberg is certainly putting a lot into Butler’s return after his left knee strain, hoping it’ll mean a return to a defensive mindset that has waned in Butler’s absence.
Honestly, it’s been nonexistent since the first month of the season but their issues have become more magnified since Butler went down in the second quarter of a loss in Denver in early February.
Although both sides have hedged their bets, it’s a certainty Butler will play Saturday night, and his return couldn’t have come at a more critical time.
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The Bulls’ coach had plenty of time for reflection during his drive in Chicago traffic to Friday’s practice, hoping the emergence of better weather clicking a light on with the players to let them know the playoffs are around the corner.
In other words, as the weather gets warmer, the good teams flow with it and the bad teams use it as a tool to get ready for the offseason.
“The sun's shining, I think it's supposed to be 65 degrees next week, and it's such an exciting time of year,” Hoiberg said. “I was a part of some really good teams playing, and I was a part of some stinkers. It's that time of year right now where if you're not making the playoffs and you're not playing the right way, you're counting down the days for it to be over.”
The Bulls have struggled for awhile since their 22-12 start, going 8-18 since—and Butler has been on the floor for a decent amount of those losses, although Hoiberg is willing to cede that Butler’s form of leadership can be necessary.
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“We've harped on that all year with this group, talking to each other in a constructive way and not taking it personal. Jimmy will help with that,” Hoiberg said. “He's good at it. It'll get in somebody's face. Pau (Gasol) will help with that as well. He's good at it. If that coverage isn't called, you've got to be able to say something to your teammate and correct it.”
Butler, who caught some criticism in the media by calling out Hoiberg when things hadn’t yet turned as tenuous as it is now, sees opportunity, even as the Bulls are in a dogfight to even qualify for spring baskeball.
“I don’t know. I live for those moments,” Butler said. “I want everybody else to wake up right now and realize how important each and every one of these last 22 games are.”