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Rose and Butler ready for the challenge
If the Bulls are to win this Eastern Conference semifinal series, Butler and Rose will have to be a special duo.
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By Sam Smith | 5.4.2015 | 5:24 p.m.
Perhaps you'd say Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler are a basketball version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the daring and iconoclastic old West figures ready to shoot ‘em up and who definitely draw attention. Though it didn't end too well for those guys. They do make sweet string music, sort of having the basketball soul of Sam and Dave. The way they play is righteous. And they'll get up in the air, these Right Brothers.
If the Bulls are to win this Eastern Conference semifinal series starting Monday, Butler and Rose will have to be a special duo.
"The guys that we have and, like I always say, no disrespect to my old teammates, but the guys that we have this year, it's a little bit different," Rose told reporters at Monday practice about playing the Cavs. "Individually, it seems they're trying to add new things to their games and sharpen up their games. From the rookies to the oldest person in Nazr (Mohammed), you have people that it seems like they're dedicating themselves to their craft. It's a blessing. And we're fortunate to be on this team.
"I think I've been a lot more vocal than the past years," said Rose. "Talking, just letting guys know, even just clapping and showing positivity on the floor when things aren't going our way. I think it goes far for our team because we always have slumps during the game and just trying to boost guys up and keep guys together."
Confidence level? Rose was asked
"I think it's very high," Rose said.
Backcourt buddy Butler agreed:
"To win, I think that's our mission," said Butler. "To win as many games as quickly as we can. I think we're a confident group of guys. We play hard and I think we play the right way, so why can't we win.''
This is their time.
Sure, for the Bulls as a team with likely their best chance to beat a LeBron James-led team since Rose was drafted in 2008. Though the Bulls went to the conference finals in 2010 before losing to James and the Miami Heat in five games, Rose had to be the dominant figure without a second big time scoring option.
That's become Butler, the 30th pick in the 2011 draft (when Kyrie Irving was No. 1) who has emerged as an All-Star and the team's leading scorer this season and in the first round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Plus, now James gets occupied with more than Rose. Previously, James could rotate defensively onto Rose. Though not so much anymore with Butler. And Pau Gasol as well.
But Rose likely will be matched up with fellow All-Star Irving while Butler will be matched up with James.
Though the conventional wisdom is about X-factors emerging and reserves tilting the series, much will depend on the two stars from each team, James and Irving from the Cavs and the Bulls Brothers, Rose and Butler.
"The past is the past," Butler said Monday about James' teams defeating the Bulls three times since 2009. "If we continue to set ourselves on what happened in the past, it's going to continue to repeat itself. I think we're moving forward. This is a new step. We can't sit here and dwell on the past because no one feels sorry for us anyways, so why should we feel sorry for ourselves?
"I look at this series as another series," said Butler. "We're a good team. If we just play the way we're supposed to play it doesn't matter what team we're going against, I think we can win. I'm not going to put all the emphasis on me guarding LeBron, them being the Cavs. We've just got to play basketball and look at them as five other guys going up against us.''
And Butler isn't backing off his challenge likely facing James.
"I look at it as he really is a talented player in this league, but I don't think that intimidates me not to the slightest bit," said Butler. "I'm supposed to be the underdog. And I am. We're both just competitors, we're both NBA players, we both put one sneaker on at a time. It's just going to be a competitive matchup tonight on both ends of the floor for both of us. I'd like to think I'm big and physical as well. It's playoff basketball and it's never just me guarding him, anyway, so we'll see what all this matchup stuff is all about. I just know I want to play. I want to help win no matter who I'm guarding. Tonight it's probably going to be LeBron James.
"He's a pretty tough cover," Butler added. "Everybody knows he's one of the best players in the league and he continues to prove why he is. I'm not going to say that I can't guard him. You're never going to hear that come out of my mouth. He'll have my best effort tonight, along with the other four guys that we have on the floor.''
Rose knows Butler won't have it easy.
"I think he's focused," Rose said of Butler. "I think he's going to take that challenge. But who knows what he's actually going through? When you're playing against one of the best players in the NBA and you're coming in this arena knowing how much he did in this arena, I think nerves play a little part to it. But I know during the game that should be gone. He should be ready."
And Rose will have to be ready against the ascendant Irving.
"I don't look into that," Rose said about it being he against Irving. "I think it's the media and everybody else that looks into it. For me, it's another playoff game. Bring the same intensity as I did my previous playoff games. We're just trying to play well together. Just make sure they see a crowd. You've got two of the best offensive players in the league as far as putting a team on their back and being able to win games by themselves. It's all about just seeing bodies and making everything tough.
"The intensity is going to be totally different," said Rose. "You don't know what they're going to do on pick and roll and isolation. The first game is reading each other, seeing what they're going to do offensively and defensively, what matchups they're looking to go at. Even if it's Kyrie (defending him), in the NBA you have to stop people with your team. I know in the playoffs, they're not going to let me get to the basket the way I want to. So I have to find ways around it and play smart.
"We're happy we played the way we played the last game," Rose said about closing out the Bucks. "If anything, it can help boost our confidence and motivate us a little bit more. But we know this is going to be a battle. They're a very talented team that wants to go far. We have the same ambition. We want to go far too. It's going to be tough. This is what we've been waiting for the entire year."
Mel and Tim? Backcourt in Motion? It's time.