The Chicago Bulls kick off the longest road trip they have this season with tonight's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. Coming into tonight's final meeting with the Bucks, (excluding the possibility of playoffs), the Bulls trail the season series two games to one. In the previous two games, Chicago has blown a 27-point deficit and has been out-defended. This game figures to be another close one.
Though the game may be close, things figure to be fairly different this time around with the emergence of Bulls backup guard/forward, Jimmy Butler. With Deng sidelined by injury, Butler stepped up in a big way having played 40+ minutes each night. With his new minutes, Butler has notched a double-double, hustled on every play and for every rebound, and won the confidence and hearts of many Bulls fans.
A few people, (myself included), were a bit worried about how Butler would respond to going back to a bench role after having played so well. After all, we saw what happened with Marco Belinelli earlier this season when he started and was subsequently benched upon Richard Hamilton's return*.
*Note: For those of you who don't know, Belinelli was scoring 20+ points per game when he started but faded into playing terribly when he came off the bench (like he is now).
The worries were for naught. In the last game against the Bobcats Butler posted a career high 19 points on a super efficient 7-of-10 shooting. On whether or not he cares he's coming off the bench, Butler told the Bulls' official website,
"It's all the same to me. Just come in off the bench with energy, rebounding, guarding, making open shots, getting to the free-throw line. That's what my teammates need me to do. So when I'm out there, starter or off the bench, whatever it may be, I'm still the same player bringing the same things to the table."
Butler's willingness to come off the bench could prove to be big for Chicago. While Butler's offensive performance isn't a given on any single night, his energy, defense, and ability to be like Deng for big minutes at a time will help Chicago grind through this six game road trip.
Injuries other than Derrick Rose:
Luol Deng is expected to play again tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks however no official plans have been made as far as we know. He made his return to the lineup against the Bobcats. Unless he aggravated his injury again he should play and start tonight.
Carlos Boozer reportedly has a strained hamstring and is day-to-day. He hasn't been ruled out yet, but things look fairly bleak. I personally expect him to miss tonight's game given how cautious the training staff has been with injuries all season long. Tonight's game will be Boozer's first missed game since the 2010-2011 NBA season.
Key Matchup: Jimmy Butler vs. Whoever He's Guarding:
The Bucks have a speedy backcourt with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. The last time these two teams met the duo absolutely tore Chicago apart. Jennings and Ellis were almost always a step or two ahead of Belinelli, Hamilton, Nate Robinson, and Kirk Hinrich. At one point tonight Butler will likely be tasked with guarding whoever of the two is playing better to limit the damage that can be done. Butler's defensive prowess could help keep this a low scoring game for the Bucks which definitely helps Chicago's cause as the Bulls come into this game third worst at scoring in the league.
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