There’s actually a method to Fred Hoiberg’s recent lineup madness
This isn’t going to be a one-man show. No, if the Bulls are going to stop being an underachieving team and have a chance at making the cut in the Eastern Conference playoff race, it can’t be just Jimmy Butler every night.
“It’s got to be a total team effort,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said, reiterating what life is like now with guard Dwyane Wade out for the rest of the regular season with a fractured right elbow.
Through the first two games without Wade, the effort has been there. Even in Friday night’s loss at Washington, when Butler led the Bulls with 28 points, Robin Lopez chipped in 25 — almost 15 points higher than his average — while Nikola Mirotic, the recent odd man out in the rotation — put in 15.
In Saturday’s win over the Utah Jazz, Butler again led the way with 23 points, but Bobby Portis added a career-high 22, and rookie Denzel Valentine scored 11 points with 12 rebounds.
“It started off a little shaky,” Butler said of playing without Wade. “But we started to fix a lot of things in that second half [Friday]. And I think that’s the way we’re going to go moving forward. We’ve got to keep things really simple. We can’t put too many guys in too many places and positions on the floor, because they’re not used to it. And it’s not their fault.”
Credit Hoiberg — no stranger to criticism — for making up this new-look offense on the fly and, more important, showing the players he’s not opposed to defying the front office a bit. As the Sun-Times reported last week, general manager Gar Forman wasn’t thrilled with Hoiberg suddenly handing out minutes based on performance rather than making sure the young players get their share of playing time, and he even spoke to Hoiberg about it.
While the starting lineup and rotation remain fluid from game to game, the strategy at least makes sense: Play well and you’ll get more minutes.
Hoiberg will really be tested when Cameron Payne (right foot) returns this week, because Payne is the player Forman wants on the floor as much as possible. Before the injury, Hoiberg was limiting Payne’s time, giving him only 11 minutes in a win over the Charlotte Hornets on March 13.
“Fred’s showing some,” one player commented recently.
Now, can the roster “show some”?
Defeating a 43-27 Jazz team was a start, but Bulls have been here before. They have impressive wins this season over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs, but they’ve lost to less formidable teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Orlando Magic.
Their next six games can define this season. They head to Toronto on Tuesday, host the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, have a seemingly easy game on Friday against the Philadelphia 76ers, then play the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks.
Can Butler expect different teammates to continue stepping up on any given night? He doesn’t know what to expect, especially when he sometimes sees old bad habits sneaking back into gameplay.
“It’s like a broken record,” he said. “We know. We’ve done it all year long — not getting back in transition, turning the ball over, not rebounding, all that stuff. Eventually you would think that would change. But we’re  games in, and it’s still there.’’
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