Bulls need their D- men back soon

In­jured But­ler, Gib­son game- time de­ci­sions

Chicago Sun-Times - - BULLS BEAT - HERB GOULD | GETTY IM­AGES Fol­lowmeon Twit­ter@ Her­bGould.

Jimmy But­ler prac­ticed with his team­mates Fri­day for the first time since he in­jured his left knee Feb. 5 and could re­turn when the Bulls face the Rock­ets on Satur­day at the United Cen­ter.

Whether or not he re­turns, But­ler said the Bulls need to ramp up their sense of ur­gency in the fi­nal 22 games.

‘‘ I live for th­ese mo­ments,’’ he said. ‘‘ I want ev­ery­body else to wake up right now and re­al­ize how im­por­tant each and ev­ery one of th­ese last 22 games are.’’

Is But­ler sur­prised that play­ing hard, which was the Bulls’ trade­mark un­der for­mer coach Tom Thi­bodeau, has be­come a ques­tion mark?

‘‘ Yes and no,’’ he said. ‘‘ When you play hard, you win games. I don’t think we play hard all the time. You have to bring it ev­ery night against ev­ery op­po­nent. Be­cause ev­ery­body in this league has a ros­ter full of NBA play­ers.’’

The tran­si­tion to coach Fred Hoiberg and the spate of in­juries, es­pe­cially to key de­fend­ers, are among the rea­sons for the Bulls’ soft­ness. But that’s not the fo­cus now.

‘‘ You can sit here and say this or say that,’’ But­ler said. ‘‘ It doesn’t mat­ter. We just have to play hard. I can’t tell you why. We just haven’t done it. Some­times we let off the gas, and it’s not a pretty sight.’’ So will he play Satur­day? ‘‘ I do not know,’’ But­ler said. ‘‘ That’s a good ques­tion. I do not know. [ I wouldn’t play] if my body’s not ready, my knee. I need to go get some treat­ment right now.’’

While en­cour­aged, Hoiberg also said But­ler’s re­turn will be a ga­me­time de­ci­sion.

‘‘ He looked good,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘ He’s not in very good shape, but that will come very quickly for Jimmy. He’s been work­ing ex­tremely hard through­out this process to get him­self ready to go out and play. [ Fri­day] was a step in the right di­rec­tion. We’ll see how he’s feel­ing [ Satur­day] morn­ing. We won’t rule [ a Satur­day re­turn] out, but he’s still got to come in and get through shootaround and then hope­fully he’ll be ready to go.”

Taj Gib­son ( ham­string), who didn’t play Wed­nes­day at Or­lando, also will be a game- time de­ci­sion.

“He’s an­other guy that can de­fend, one of our top de­fend­ers,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘ When you have Jimmy out of the lineup and Jo [ Noah] ob­vi­ously has been out and you have Taj out of the lineup, we’ve strug­gled [ de­fen­sively]. To get Taj and Jimmy on the floor to­gether, I think, would def­i­nitely be a step in the right di­rec­tion.”

Like But­ler, Hoiberg is in­tent on see­ing the Bulls rekin­dle their in­ten­sity and sal­vage some­thing from a trou­bling sea­son. They are ninth in the East­ern Con­fer­ence but only a half- game be­hind the No. 8 Pis­tons, who hold the fi­nal play­off slot.

‘‘ I told our guys to­day it’s such an ex­cit­ing time of year,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘ It’s that time of year where teams are do­ing ev­ery­thing in their power to play their best bas­ket­ball when it mat­ters most. That’s where I chal­lenged our guys. It’s time. We’re get­ting healthy. We’re get­ting our guys back. Now it’s about go­ing out there and cor­rect­ing all the things that have been cost­ing us, es­pe­cially on the de­fen­sive end.’’

Fred Hoiberg said Jimmy But­ler looked good in prac­tice but isn’t in good shape. But­ler has been out with a knee in­jury.

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