TORONTO, CA — Drenched in sweat after morning shootaround, Jimmy Butler was in good spirits on the practice floor of the Air Canada Centre, hours before the Bulls play the Toronto Raptors.
Butler will play, after his visit to Dr. James Andrews last week brought good news for his left knee, but his playing time will be monitored heavily upon his return to the lineup.
He admitted the knee reacting after a one-game return brought about some concerns, which pre-empted the visit to Dr. Andrews in Pensacola, Fla.
“Yeah, of course. I was worried but not too worried because it didn’t hurt as bad as it did Feb. 5,” said Butler, referring to his initial injury in Denver. “Yeah I was nervous but I gotta get over it now. We got a couple games we gotta win, what 18 (games remaining)? We need all 18 of these.”
A 34-minute showing, such as the one against Houston 10 days ago, isn’t likely this time around, but Butler joked, “Gotta risk it to get the biscuit! Gotta risk it to get the biscuit,” when asked about the possibility of re-injury.
“No, no specific number,” said Butler when asked about a minute restriction. “They said they’ll be watching. I’ll be watching, too.”
Neither Butler nor Fred Hoiberg would say if there’s an exact number but there likely is one, a much lower one than the aforementioned 34. When asked how he felt, Butler said: “Good enough to play.”
“My job is to help us win,” Butler said. “I don’t know what situation you may call that. Go out there and do what it takes to win.”
The Bulls are 5-10 without Butler and 27-22 with him in the lineup, as Monday presents yet another game where the Bulls could drop below the .500 mark, and they’re already a full game behind the Detroit Pistons for the eighth seed.
With Mike Dunleavy (flu) and Derrick Rose (groin) appearing to be game-time decisions, along with Pau Gasol (knee) being back in Chicago for this two-game trip, the temptation is to lean on Butler more than usual.
But keeping Butler upright for the next 18 games is more important than winning one — a strategy that put the Bulls behind the eight-ball to begin with.
“We’re on the same page,” Hoiberg said. “We’re just about making sure we’re checking on him at all times and go out there and stick to the plan. There’s a plan in place, we’ll stick to the plan.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Butler’s last visit to this building in a Bulls uniform brought on the best performance to that date in his career, dropping 42 in the second half on the Raptors in a comeback victory.
He didn’t want to revisit any of that talk, but said getting the Bulls to the playoffs is his objective for the last few weeks of the season.
"I gotta do whatever it takes to get my team win,” Butler said. “I let the coaches know that. I let Gar (Forman) and Pax (John Paxson) know that. If I’m stepping on the floor I’m giving my all as long as the team needs me.”
More importantly, a lot lies on Hoiberg to protect Butler from himself with so many guys out, even if Rose and Dunleavy decide to suit up.
“He’s gonna want to do that. But we gotta stick with what we’re doing,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously the plan has been modified from the first time he came back. It’s going out there and making sure Jimmy’s with us the rest of the way as opposed to getting too hungry this first game. He’s gonna want to play 48 minutes with what we have out of the lineup as well.”