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Jimmy Butler challenges his teammates to bring the fight every night

PORTLAND – Jimmy Butler is just fine with the personnel surrounding him.

In the eyes of the Bulls star guard, talent level isn’t the culprit in too many slow starts and disappointing nights even going back to last season.

What has to change as this season goes on remains effort and energy, because as Butler acknowledged, the window on this current group is a lot closer to slamming shut than staying open.

“I just think that at times we take for granted how talented we are as a whole and with all the guys upon this roster,’’ Butler said following the Monday practice. “We think we can come out and just go through the motions at the beginning of a game, dig ourselves a little hole, and think we can just pick it up at any point and time, and it just doesn’t work like that.

“You gotta come out from the jump and try and beat a team for the whole 48 minutes. I think we’ve been really good from the start of games these past few games, and come up short in a few, but I think if we keep pushing, keep playing hard all the time, we’re going to win games.’’

What goes along with that is too many excuses being made over the years, whether it was injury, off-the-court-drama, or now a coaching transition, Butler sounded like a guy that wants the focus of his teammates to be on the final score and the standings.

“We can’t blame losses on we didn’t have this guy,’’ Butler said. “We’re all NBA players, we’re all supposed to be able to win games for this ballclub.’’

The good news for this year’s version of the Bulls is they entered the week tied for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 8-4, are getting Derrick Rose [left ankle sprain] back for Tuesday’s game, and have health improvement from both Aaron Brooks [hamstring] and Mike Dunleavy [back surgery].

Coach Fred Hoiberg is still working on getting his playbook fully installed, but there are more than glimpses that the Xs and Os are starting to be figured out.

In other words, the arrow seems to be pointing up.

But if this group can’t figure out energy and effort on a game-to-game basis? It will mean very little come May.

“It’s tough to bring the best effort every night,’’ veteran center Pau Gasol said. “That’s kind of the challenge and the difference also between really good teams, and OK teams, and bad teams. The teams that understand the importance of each and every night, understand that it’s hard because an 82-game season, there’s travelling involved and some nights you might not have it the way want to, but you just got to do it if you want to win, if you want to be a different team. You’ve got to be consistent.’’

In the eyes of both players, that starts and ends with the players. A coach can help the process, but it all falls on the five that take the court.

“I don’t think we bring that fight every single night,’’ Butler admitted. “I think we’re starting to get back to that, but early on we weren’t the hardest-playing team every night. We always need to and have to be the hardest-playing team.’’