Jimmy Butler seeks second opinion on knee injury

The Bulls Thursday visit the “rest” home of the NBA, sleepy San Antonio, for the national TNT game with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs, of course, are known for resting their main players throughout the season to build toward the playoffs. So it remains unclear after Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili didn’t play in Tuesday’s win over Minnesota whom the Spurs will play Thursday against the Bulls.

While the streak of the Golden State Warriors and the play of Stephen Curry has been the story of the NBA season, the Spurs have quietly—quiet, too quiet—put together an astounding record of 30-0 at home and with a margin of victory of 12.4 per game, which is almost two points per game better than Golden State’s.

What seemingly makes it even more remarkable is that no one from San Antonio apparently has even played in a game this season in the interests of being healthy for the post season, and the team still is 54-10.

“The difficult thing about (Thursday) is playing Kawhi Leonard, one of the best wings in the league; he will pose a problem,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after Wednesday’s practice. “Put an option B and maybe go to an option C to guard a guy like that.”

That’s because the Bulls option A, Jimmy Butler, is getting his own form of rest, though not exactly welcomed. Hoiberg Wednesday revealed Butler will be in Alabama Thursday for a second opinion on his strained left knee, which swelled unexpectedly after returning for one game after he missed the previous 11.

Hoiberg said the swelling has subsided and Bulls physicians reported no structural damage. But Butler elected and the medical staff agreed for Butler to visit renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews for an additional analysis.

“Everyone agrees it’s a good idea to go down there and get an opinion from one of the top doctors in the world,” Hoiberg said.

It seemed that Butler was seeking some reassurance as Hoiberg said Butler still was experiencing some pain, albeit without swelling any longer.

Hoiberg said after practice Tuesday the team was cautious with Butler and continues to be so after Butler had 24 points in 34 minutes in Saturday’s win over Houston.

“The swelling has gone down now,” Hoiberg said Wedndsday. “It’s pretty much gone; he’s got a little bit of pain in the back of the knee and (everyone) just wants to be sure. Jimmy had two really good weeks of going 100 percent on that leg (before returning), a really good practice the day before. (We) monitored him throughout the (Saturday) game, he felt good the next morning, participated in practice and then it swelled up a little bit on him.

“We wanted to get him to a point where he was comfortable going out there and just playing and not reacting,” Hoiberg said after Tuesday’s practice. “We checked on Jimmy every time out. We got him out of there with about four minutes left in the first quarter, we held him out until the second. He felt great. He went back in there and responded all game long. The next day he came in here and worked out, felt really good. After that game, I guess in talking to the doctors and the trainers, it’s not too unexpected to have a little bit of soreness after the inactivity. We didn’t just throw him out there and say, ‘All right, go see how you do.’ We put a lot of time and effort into seeing how he was going to feel going into that game and he responded well. He was exploding. He had no limitations. He had a couple dunks coming down in transition, caught a lob from Pau (Gasol). Everything went according to plan.”

Then came the unplanned, which has been the story of the Bulls season with more than 140 player games missed and major injuries to Joakim Noah, Butler and Mike Dunleavy and serious illness for Nikola Mirotic.

Butler will have missed 13 of the last 14 games after Thursday. He didn’t meet with media before leaving for Alabama. But at a sponsor event earlier in the day, he told Comcast SportsNet he wanted to play Saturday and was satisfied with his playing time.

Twelve different Bulls players have missed games due to physical problems this season. The starting lineup that’s been viewed as best going forward with Derrick Rose, Butler, Gasol, Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy has played one game together.

That was in the 108-100 win over Houston with Butler displaying his two-way prowess and Hoiberg almost salivating watching Butler and Dunleavy together. Hoiberg said their presence together has over the last year been as good as any pairing the Bulls have played.

“Their numbers were really good in the one game they played together and last season looking at the numbers with those two guys on the floor it was really good,” said Hoiberg. “Our offensive rating when Mike is on the floor is phenomenal. He just knows how to play, knows the right spot to be in, when to cut, hug that corner and he takes the right shot.”

Since his return from back surgery, Dunleavy is averaging 9.5 points in 13 games and shooting 50 percent from threes in about 23 minutes per game. He’s averaging 12.2 points over the last five games and a season high 18 points in Monday’s win over Milwaukee in a season high 35 minutes.

“We’ve been through a bunch of injuries,” agreed Dunleavy “Hopefully we get the situation figured out as soon as we can. This has been unusual. You always deal with injuries, but what we’ve been through the last few years and you throw this on top of this it’s crazy. But stuff happens; just have to fight through it.

“Going to San Antonio is a huge challenge,” said Dunleavy “We’re approaching them (as playoff games). We can’t afford too many losses. Everyone is picking up their play now, realizing the sense of urgency needed to get wins going down the stretch. I don’t think we’ll get any gifts handed to us; we‘ll have to go out and earn it.”

Hoiberg said it was hoped Bobby Portis would play after suffering an eye injury Monday. He is listed as questionable for the Spurs. Aaron Brooks, who went out against the Bucks with a knee problem, was listed as probable. Cameron Bairstow remains out with a back problem.

“Something you have to fight through,” said Hoiberg. “It’s something all teams have gone through; we have had more than most over the course of the year with rotation players out of the lineup. It’s great opportunity for guys to go out and play and hopefully we’ll get good news with Jimmy’s situation.

“E’Twaun Moore has taken great advantage (averaging 13 points and shooting 52 percent on threes in 14 starts at guard),” said Hoiberg. “Doug McDermott has taken advantage (averaging 13.4 points since the All-Star break), Justin Holiday has had a chance to go out and show what he can do. I think Justin really battles, defended (Dwayne) Wade as well as anybody in our game in Miami. He’s got length, is going to compete, smart and knows where to be. He’s going to have to give us minutes the rest of the year.

“Now,” said Hoiberg, “we’ve got a tough schedule looking forward playing San Antonio, then a long flight home and having to play Miami on a back-to-back with them waiting for us here (after playing in Milwaukee Wednesday). So it’s just going out and continue to take things one game at a time; that’s all we can do right now. It’s a matter of when we do get healthy, making a run and playing our best basketball of the season.”