Whether it's a slump or adjustment, Butler's numbers are down

The Chicago Bulls have been a puzzling team all season.

Not so much their 31-31 record, but the fact that you never know what you'll get from them.

Beat the Celtics and Cavs, lose to Denver. Beat the Warriors and lose to the struggling Clippers.

Likewise, it's tough to tell what to make of Jimmy Butler's recent play. Since the all-star break, Butler is averaging 17.2 points, 6.8 assists and shooting 38 percent.

The points and field-goal percentage are below his season averages, but his assists are up and the Bulls, for all their inconsistency, are 5-2 in their last seven games and still in position to make the playoffs.

Is this even a slump or an adjustment to seeing more attention from opposing defenses? Is it even a problem? It's tough to tell.

"I just continue to pass the ball to the open guy," Butler said after Saturday's 101-91 loss to the Clippers. "I'm just trying to play basketball the right way. That's my job.

"I don't know if not consistent is the right word. I want to get everybody involved. I think that's what coaches want me to do, I think that's what everybody wants me to do."

Butler took just 7 shots against the Clippers. That matches his season low, if you don't count the game against Oklahoma City on Jan. 9 when he was sick and barely played. Then again, Butler got to the foul line eight times and led the Bulls with 16 points, so it wasn't exactly a poor individual performance.

But since the Bulls lost the game, it's always worth asking if their best player could have done more. Butler was on the floor late in the third quarter when the Clippers took command with a 12-2 run.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg credited Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute for being one of the league's better defenders and repeated his frequent claim that the offense suffers when the Bulls don't get stops on defense.

"That first half, we scored 61 points, and I think Jimmy and Dwyane (Wade) both only took 3 shots," Hoiberg said Sunday at the Advocate Center. "And our flow was as good as it's been all year. Then it did slow down and we got a little stagnant. Even when we had opportunities to run, I didn't feel we did that."

Butler has been seeing more double teams lately. That's probably a byproduct of the Bulls trading away Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, while the replacements still are unproven. The best way to combat double teams is for guys such as Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine to capitalize by knocking down open shots.

"I think we all know I can shoot the ball at any time - good shot, bad shot," Butler said. "But I don't want to do that, so I don't care what my stats look like. It's just winning the game."

The Bulls did a decent job of sharing the ball Saturday, finishing with 26 assists, but 19 of those came in the first half. Rajon Rondo led the team with 9 assists, and the Clippers went on a run late in the third after Rondo turned his right ankle while stepping on the foot of Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

Rondo and Wade (thigh) sat out Sunday's practice and are expected to be game-time decisions Monday at Detroit. The Bulls' final regular-season game at the Palace of Auburn Hills begins a stretch of four road games in the next five.

"I like being on the road," Butler said. "I don't know about anybody else, but I like it. So hopefully we will go get four of the next five."

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Scouting report

Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, 6:30 p.m. Monday

TV: Comcast SportsNet

Radio: WLS 890-AM

Outlook: Barring an unlikely playoff matchup, this will be the Bulls' last visit to the Palace. Next season, the Pistons will move into a downtown arena they will share with the Red Wings. As of Sunday morning, Detroit (30-32) was 1 game behind the Bulls for seventh place in the East, after scoring a season-high 136 points in a win Saturday at Philadelphia. SF Tobias Harris is the Pistons' top scorer at 16.2 ppg, followed by a cluster of PG Reggie Jackson (14.8), PF Marcus Morris (14.7), C Andre Drummond (14.7) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (14.6). The Bulls and Pistons have split a pair of games this season, each team winning at home.

Next: Orlando Magic at the Amway Center, 6 p.m. Wednesday

- Mike McGraw

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