Butler won’t be available to block Bulls’ path to playoff spot

If it's any consolation, the Bulls won't get a chance to watch Jimmy Butler in the playoffs this year and wonder what could have been.

Butler was officially ruled out of Friday's play-in game between the Bulls and Miami Heat with a right knee MCL sprain, and is expected to miss a few weeks. Butler was clearly hobbled at the end of Wednesday's loss in Philadelphia.

Since the Bulls traded Butler on draft night 2017, he's led the Heat to the NBA Finals twice, while the Bulls have struggled to even make the playoffs. That could change Friday, though. The winner of this game will be the East's No. 8 seed and face Boston, beginning on Sunday.

“He's one of the great competitors of this league,” Bulls guard Alex Caruso said of Butler. “He turns this time of the year into his time. If he can't go, that would be a significant loss for them. He's kind of the heartbeat for them.”

Detroit Pistons guard Jaden Ivey (23) drives on Chicago Bulls guard Alex Caruso (6) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Detroit, Thursday, April 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) AP

The Bulls have injury issues of their own, mostly regarding Caruso. Early in the second quarter of Wednesday's win over Atlanta at the United Center, Caruso collided with Andre Drummond while running down the court. He headed to the locker room, returned a few minutes later and finished the first half, started the third quarter, but departed again after two minutes and did not return.

“Yeah, he just caught me on my right foot, that kind of gave out, so my left (foot) tried to catch me and just kind of tweaked my ankle a little bit,” Caruso said. “That same one I've been dealing with the last couple of weeks of the season that we were managing and figuring out.

“Tried to tape it up, take some more Tylenol and get out there and I was kind of ineffective so it was probably better to have some of those guys finish the game. They did a great job.”

Inside the locker room Wednesday, Caruso said he intends to play in Miami, but it obviously depends on how the ankle responds.

“I don't usually swell, so hopefully keep that down, put some compression on it and just roll with it and see how it goes,” he said. “My mindset will be to play until my body tells me I can’t.”

Caruso (left ankle sprain), Drummond (left ankle sprain) and Ayo Dosunmu (right quad contusion) are all listed as questionable. Drummond and Dosunmu missed games late in the regular season. Dosunmu looked like his usual self against the Hawks, scoring 19 points in 41 minutes.

“Keep having faith and try to pick my spots when to accelerate,” Dosunmu said of his health plan. “I missed a couple of easy bunnies, layups that I normally would make. But at this time of the season, your body is supposed to be banged up.”

Drummond logged 11 minutes against Atlanta and admitted after the game he was far from 100 percent.

The Bulls went 2-2 against Miami during the regular season. Friday's game is a replay of last year's play-in showdown. The Bulls held the lead late in that contest, but the Heat finished off a 102-91 victory, then advanced all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to Denver.

In last year's play-in, Butler and Max Strus led Miami with 31 points each. Now Butler is injured and Strus plays for Cleveland.

“I remember that plane ride home vividly,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Everybody was just frustrated. That feeling stunk. I know for me, that was one thing on my mind once I realized we're going back to Miami, not to have the same feeling.”

Coby White scored a career-high 42 points Wednesday, but it's probably safe to say Miami will put up more defensive resistance than Atlanta did.

One word of warning. If the Bulls win Friday and become a playoff team, their draft pick will slide from No. 11 to 15. Here's a list of NBA players drafted between picks 11 and 14 since 2015:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Tyrese Haliburton, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Domantas Sabonis, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Cam Johnson, P.J. Washington, Jalen Williams, Jalen Duren, Malik Monk, Dereck Lively.

Making the playoffs does come with a price, in this case.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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