With return imminent, Butler offers blunt critique of Bulls' play
After missing 11 games with a left knee strain, Jimmy Butler participated in most of Friday's Bulls practice.
He wasn't ready to commit to playing Saturday against Houston at the United Center, but understands the Bulls are counting on him to improve a broken defense.
"I better be able to guard somebody," Butler said. "Heck, if I come back tomorrow I dang sure better be able to guard somebody. But yeah, I think I've got to get back to guarding and sparking on that end of the floor. I think I've scored the ball well enough where I forget about how hard I've got to to play on defense."
Butler has missed the last 11 games with a left knee strain and to put it bluntly, the Bulls have stunk without him, falling out of playoff contention. They're still working on a streak of allowing opponents to score at least 100 points in 15 straight games.
While Butler didn't provide any news about his return, he delivered plenty of disgust when talking about the Bulls' inability to play any defense in recent weeks. In Tuesday's loss at Miami, the Heat recorded the highest opponent field-goal percentage (.675) in Bulls' history.
"I don't think we've been playing defense all year," Butler said. "I just think we just outscore opponents a lot of the times. We're a talented group of guys but not that talented to outscore everybody every night. Obviously we've got to guard. we've been saying that all year. I know you guys have heard it a million times. Hopefully, I can help when I get back."
Since Butler is the Bulls' leading scorer and best individual defender, it's hard to imagine them getting worse with him back in the lineup. They've gone 8-18 since Jan. 9, which includes plenty of games with Butler on the floor.
Clearly, it will take more than Butler's return to get the Bulls moving in a direction that lands them a postseason spot. At the same time, coach Fred Hoiberg didn't bother trying to downplay Butler's impending return, whether it happens Saturday or a later date.
"He's unbelievable," Hoiberg said. "Just look at everything he does. He always defends the other team's best perimeter player, and we have had, obviously, issues on that side of the floor. When you can stay in front of the ball and guard the other team's best player like Jimmy can do, it helps."
Butler shared another critique of the Bulls -- their refusal to play hard all the time. Going back to preseason, this team has a tendency to play one great quarter, followed by a dismal defenseless quarter, and vice-versa.
"When you play hard, you win games," Butler said. "I don't think we play hard all the time. That's not surprising. You have to bring it every night against every opponent, because everybody in this league has a roster full of NBA players."
Butler had two tasks in mind for Friday afternoon -- more treatment for his left knee and a haircut.
"I really want to look good for tomorrow night," Butler said with a laugh.
Is that a positive sign, Butler wanting to look good for a national TV game? Maybe, but he could also expect to get plenty of camera time wearing a suit on the bench as the announcers explain why the Bulls have been so bad.
At least Butler was willing to defend his teammates and feel optimistic about their chances the rest of the way.
"I love this team. I'll fight for this team," Butler said. "I just think it's disappointing for myself, for the organization and for the fans that we have not brought the fight every night. It's OK to lose but it's not OK to lose the way that we have been.
"I live for those moments. I want everybody else to wake up right now and realize how important each and every one of these last 22 games are."
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Bulls scouting reportBulls vs. Houston Rockets at the United Center, 7:30 Saturday
Radio: ESPN 1000-AM
Outlook: The Rockets (30-31) are holding onto the eighth playoff spot in the West, but this season has been a disappointment after they played in the conference finals last year. SG James Harden is averaging 28.7 points on the season, second in the league. Over the last five games, he's averaged 36 points while shooting 50.4 percent from the field. The Rockets couldn't find a taker for C Dwight Howard at the trade deadline, so he's still wearing red and averaging 17.8 points and 13 rebounds in the last five games. SF Trevor Ariza is Houston's third-leading scorer at 12.4 ppg. PF Donatas Montiejunas is back in the Rockets' starting lineup after a trade to Detroit was nixed because of a bad back. This is the first meeting between these teams this season. The Bulls have won the last two against the Rockets at the United Center.
Next: Milwaukee Bucks at the United Center on Monday, 7 p.m.
-- Mike McGraw