Bulls

Bulls: Jimmy Butler playing through thigh injury

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Bulls: Jimmy Butler playing through thigh injury

Jimmy Butler wants to play 82 games this season and he’ll be damned if it doesn’t happen, even if his body won’t cooperate.

He woke up Thursday morning with his left thigh locked up after the Bulls’ exhilarating overtime win over the Indiana Pacers, a game that wouldn’t have been won without his heroics down the stretch.

It was bad enough he needed help to get out of bed to make it to the Bulls practice facility, and he was actually listed on the team injury report, although he says he was in no danger of actually missing time.

“It’s not that serious,” Butler told CSNChicago.com after the Bulls’ 108-81 win over the New York Knicks Friday night. “If I can go, I’ll go. I don’t know where it was from, I just woke up in a little bit of pain.”

“I woke up the next morning, feeling it for real. Went and got some treatment, keep it heated, keep it moving, I’ll be alright.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

As long as he stays active, i.e., on the floor and not the bench, he believes the pain is manageable. Butler played 34 minutes Friday, slightly down from his 37.4 minute per game average.

He scored 23 points with six assists and four rebounds, so it doesn’t appear to affect his play thus far. He had a foot injury that he suffered in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors in mid-November that he initially didn’t want to disclose but he was receiving treatment on it.

It prompted Butler to remark how he’s got a bet with one of his trainers that he’ll suit up for every game this season, and he intends to win the wager.

“The foot’s good. It’s great. But it nags,” he said. “I got a bet with (trainer) Travelle Gaines that I’ll play all 82 games. When I’m locked up I gotta try to get out there.”

It’s enough of a concern that Butler was added to the team’s growing injury report, as the Bulls are already without Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose has missed the last two games with right hamstring soreness.

“Not serious. It’s something we gotta manage,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Jimmy always wants to practice, he wants the reps, he feels it’s great for his timing.”

[MORE: Mirotic, Portis spark Bulls in win over Knicks]

Although he’s been effective despite the injury, he’s felt it pushing off on drives to the basket, which could limit his explosiveness if it persists.

“Without a doubt, I definitely felt it,” Butler said. "(But) I felt like I needed to play. My team really needed me out there and I wanted to play. I wanted to play the game, to give us a decent chance of winning when I’m on the floor.”

Butler has been a stabilizing force in two wins where the bench has taken over the fourth quarter, their comeback win over the Toronto Raptors and Friday’s win where the defense stiffened to hold the Knicks to eight points in the last 12 minutes.

He feels his presence alone can aid while other teammates are recovering from more serious ailments.

“Jimmy, he’s gonna go out there and give it everything he’s got,” Hoiberg said. “He’s gonna come in and get his treatments. Everybody’s gotta come in and get their bodies worked on. We got a big stretch coming up, so it’s important for everybody to get their body right.”

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. making a name for himself as top defender in 2018 class

Wendell Carter Jr. has been one of the few bright spots in a tough stretch for the Bulls. 

Speculation around the time of the 2018 NBA Draft was that Mohammed Bamba, Jaren Jackson Jr. or even DeAndre Ayton could end up being better defenders than Carter due to their athleticism. And while time will tell if this is true, so far in 2018-19, Carter has shown that he is ahead of his peers in terms of breaking down what is happening in front of him and assessing what his responsibility is. One of the main thing holding back the Bulls on defense is ball-watching.

To be effective against an opponent that swings the ball around on offense—generating good shots from the strong and weakside—your defense needs to have all five players on the floor with their head on a swivel, keeping an eye on the ball and their man. Carter has done a lot of leading by example in this specific area. 

Carter's defensive numbers have been head-and-shoulders above his fellow rookie big men and with Hoiberg trusting him with 25+ minutes a night, the gap between he and his peers is likely to grow.

Heading into Wednesday's game, opponent's attacked him frequently within 6 feet of the basket. When Carter defends shot within 6 feet of the basket he makes opponent's shoot 9.3 percent worse, the best mark on the Bulls if you consider sample size. 

As of now, Carter is still on pace to be the only teenager in NBA history to average at least 2 blocks per game. And if he keeps this up, his case for Rookie of the Year will only get stronger.

And with all of the injuries and struggles of this young team, Carter's impressive defensive IQ continues to bring hope.

The Bulls upcoming back-to-back will see them take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard respectively. 

These matchups will likely show just how far away the Bulls are from being a competitive team. But with Chicago’s perimeter defense lacking sufficient wing defenders, these two games will also showcase Carter’s ability to be the last line of defense, on a team that could use a first one.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jimmy Butler makes debut for Philly

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jimmy Butler makes debut for Philly

Patrick Finley and Anthony Herron join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00 - Mark Schanowski drops by to talk about Zach LaVine’s minutes load, Lauri Markkanen’s rehab and Jimmy Butler’s debut for Philly. Plus, they discuss if Draymond Green might have just pushed Kevin Durant out the door in Golden State when this season is over?

13:00 - The guys dissect Mitch Trubisky’s NFC Offensive Player of the Week award and Cody Parkey travelling to Soldier Field to practice kicking.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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