Optimistic Jimmy Butler set to return vs Toronto

Now, he’s back!

Yes, I’m using that one much too much. But with this Bulls team it’s become the go-to lead.

This time as the Bulls Monday prepare to face the Toronto Raptors, it’s Jimmy Butler, back from his second opinion, and missing 14 of the last 15 games with knee problems and 15 of the last 17 since going 47 minutes in a loss to Utah Feb. 1.

“My job is to help us win,” Butler said after a morning practice. “I don’t know what situation you may call that. Go out there and do whatever it takes to help us win. I just have to go out there and play hard, don’t worry about my body and give my all for this team.

“You got to risk it to get the biscuit,” Butler declared.

Given the team was in Canada, this could have been a hockey reference.

Of course, it cannot be easy talking to us media hosers with the Molson muscles.

Eh, I’m talking Canadian!

Butler was talking upbeat even as the Bulls were facing the unenviable assignment of the second-in-the-East Raptors without Pau Gasol back in Chicago with knee problems, Derrick Rose 50-50 with a groin strain and Mike Dunleavy also uncertain and not at practice after coming down with a stomach virus.

Hopefully, he didn’t go in for the local specialty called poutine, which was explained as French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy.

How did they not come up with that in Kentucky?

Butler, despite the afflictions around him, seemed in a buoyant mood to return.

Asked about his followup trip to see Dr. James Andrews, Butler said, “Lonely in Pensacola, Florida, lonely down there.”

Asked about his 40-point second half in the Bulls’ January win over the Raptors (now 3-0 this season and eight straight overall), Butler practically held his hands over his ears and began jabbering to drown out the sound.

“I can’t even remember that,” he said. “I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t remember that.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg did.

“Jimmy, that’s as good a performance as I’ve ever been around, that second half in our game here,” Hoiberg said. “Tony Snell and Aaron Brooks had big games for us at home (against Toronto) and Doug (McDermott) in the last one was terrific. That’s been a big part (of the success against Toronto), guys stepping up and making plays. It’s going to take a great effort. They are 14-1 in this building in the last 15; they’re playing as well as any team in our conference. You have to get off to a good start. They play so hard. They jump on you early. We have to do a good job of finding a way to play through their spurts.”

The conventional wisdom is the Bulls would start the last big man standing, Cristiano Felicio, against Toronto’s physical Jonas Valanciunas.

Though this might be a good opportunity for Hoiberg to do some experimenting. He mentioned more playing time for Nikola Mirotic, and it would be worth a try to start Mirotic at center or power forward in a small, offensive oriented lineup with Butler and E’Twaun Moore in the backcourt and Dunleavy or perhaps Justin Holiday at small forward with Taj Gibson.

Valanciunas, obviously, would defend Gibson and Luis Scola would move to Mirotic. The point would be to get more shooting on the floor and perhaps get the Raptors to go away from their backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who dominate their play, and try to force to mismatches inside against Mirotic and Gibson.

While the Bulls are 32-32 and trying to get back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference, they’ve had unusual success against a good Toronto team. But not only was there Butler’s amazing 40-point second half. McDermott had his career high 30 points in the Feb. 19 game. And when the Bulls won Dec. 28, Tony Snell had his season high 22 points and Aaron Brooks had his second highest scoring game this season with 17 points.

Though all eyes will be on Butler.

For both teams.

After missing 11 games with the Feb. 5 knee injury, Butler returned March 5, played 34 minutes and his knee swelled. He went to see Dr. Andrews and missed three more games. Now the balance is for him to play in this crucial stretch but not risk another issue.

“We had a really good meeting (with Jimmy) two or three days ago and sat down and put a plan together, similar to what we did the first time when he came back and played against Houston,” said Hoiberg. “Now it’s a matter of going out and executing that plan. The big thing is we don’t want him in and out of the lineup where he plays a game, sits two, comes back in. We want to have him for these last (18) and hopefully playing at a high level.”

It certainly means a limit on playing time, which neither Hoiberg or Butler cared to disclose. As for Butler, he says it’s just playing now to make those playoffs.

“I’ve got to do whatever it takes to help my team win,” said Butler. “I let the coaches know that. I let Gar (Forman) and Pax (John Paxson) know that. If I’m stuck out on that floor, I’m giving my all for my teammates. I guess I just have to expect it more now (a knee reaction). I’m going to play through that. I think it’s tough, but I think I’ll be all right. I don’t think it’s major.

“My team needs me to get us into the playoffs,” Butler said. “I think they are going to do a great job at that (monitoring playing time), keep me focused in the game and not worry about minutes I am playing. When I am out there, I have to be as productive as possible on both ends of the floor no matter if it’s 48 minutes, 38 minutes, hopefully not eight minutes, though. No specific number. They said they’d be watching. I’ll be watching, too.

“It’s not over with yet,” Butler said.

Yes, not until we say it’s over, though Hoiberg said he offered no new movie motivational references Monday. Though he did say if this epidemic continues he’d consider a 10-day.

“Of course, I was worried (about the swelling), but not too worried because it didn’t hurt as bad as it did Feb. 5,” said Butler. “I was nervous, but I have to get over that. Now we have a couple of games we have to win. How many games do we have left, eighteen? We need all 18 of these.”

The proof for optimism?

“Look at my biceps,” Butler declared. “I’ve been lifting.”