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updated: 3/16/2014 10:24 PM

Bulls' Butler doing it all on defense

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  • The Bulls' Jimmy Butler plays some tight defense on Kings forward Rudy Gay during Saturday night's victory over Sacramento.

      The Bulls' Jimmy Butler plays some tight defense on Kings forward Rudy Gay during Saturday night's victory over Sacramento.
    Associated Press

 
 

Joakim Noah seems to have all the momentum for NBA defensive player of the year.

On the Bulls, though, Jimmy Butler still could give him a run as defensive player of the team.

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So far during the Bulls' Elite Opponent Homestand, Butler has had to battle Miami's LeBron James, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard, Houston's James Harden and Chandler Parsons, along with Sacramento's Rudy Gay.

Up next, Butler has a relative breather. He will just be asked to stick Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, the league's top scorer at 31.8 points per game and likely MVP of the league.

"Yeah, there's no off nights," coach Tom Thibodeau said Sunday at the Berto Center. "Every team you're facing is going to have a dynamic scorer. Jimmy, I love his demeanor and his attitude. Jimmy is a fierce, fierce competitor.

"When you're guarding those guys, you can guard them great and they still have the ability to make, and Jimmy's going to keep on coming. He doesn't stop and he doesn't get discouraged, and he battles."

Butler has been up and down offensively, but it's tough to measure his true value as a scorer, because he expends so much energy on defense and rarely comes out of the game. Take away the Houston game, a blowout victory, and Butler has averaged 41 minutes in the other four games of this homestand.

Butler hit just 1 of 11 shots in Saturday's physical 94-87 victory over the Kings. He's shooting 33 percent from the field during the homestand, and his high game of 23 points came in a rough loss to San Antonio.

He also admitted to playing with sore ribs this week, the result of an accidental hit by James in the March 9 game.

"It wasn't a great night offensively (against Sacramento), but I thought he played a great game," Thibodeau said. "He came up with a huge loose ball late in that game that was critical for us to win, and that's what I respect about him.

"Jimmy's tough, and he's guarding everyone. He guards point guards, twos, threes, fours. We have the opportunity to do some switching with him. Small on big, doesn't matter. If he ends up on a big, he's physical, he's tough, he's mentally tough. Those are all the characteristics that you need."

Like most of the games on this homestand, Oklahoma City will provide a good barometer of whether the Bulls can compete with the NBA's elite.

After losing at home to Dallas on Sunday night, the Thunder was 2 games behind San Antonio for the top spot in the West and best overall record in the NBA.

"I like (the schedule)," Thibodeau said. "It tests you in a lot of ways, lets you know where you are. We have to keep our concentration, focus on our improvement and play for 48 minutes against these teams. If you let your guard down at all, two or three bad minutes, they can score a ton of points on you."

With just 16 games left in the regular season, the Bulls are 1 loss behind Toronto for third place in the East but just 2 losses ahead of Brooklyn and Washington for the No. 4 spot and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Thunder has gone 5-5 since the latest return of Russell Westbrook. He had a setback in his recovery from torn cartilage in his knee and sat out from Dec. 27 through Feb. 13.

OKC coach Scott Brooks said he might rest Westbrook during back-to-backs, and since Westbrook sat out Sunday's game against Dallas it's likely that he will play against the Bulls.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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