Jimmy Butler wasn’t going to get caught up in talk about ghosts and curses.
Sure, the Bulls’ training room has had way too many bodies in it the last three seasons. But Butler’s message to his teammates Tuesday was basically to ‘‘hold the fort down.’’
Thanks to 22 points and eight assists from Aaron Brooks, theundermanned Bulls beat the visiting Washington Wizards 97-92, keeping a grip on the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Impressive, considering they were without Butler (sprained ulnarligament and small bone-impaction injury in his left elbow), Derrick Rose (surgery on right knee) and Taj Gibson (sprained left ankle).
Gibson might be back within a week, but Butler and Rose? The news was a bit worse. Rose will be out four to six weeks and Butler three to six weeks.
‘‘I think we’re both going to be back as soon as possible, but I think we both have to be smart about it,’’ Butler said of himself and Rose. ‘‘I’m not going to say that we’regoing to come back on the same day because I don’t know, but I definitely think we both want to make it back before the end of the season.’’
As positive as Butler sounded, he couldn’t avoid the obvious. Asked several times if there was any
explanation for all the bad luck that seemingly has followed the Bulls around since Rose crumbled to the ground in the 2012 playoffs with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Butler said: ‘‘I don’t know what it is; call it whatever you want. We’ve been nicked up all year, but we find a way to win games. I think everybody knows that. [Coach Tom Thibodeau] is always preaching next man up.’’
The next men up were Brooks and Tony Snell, who the starting nod for a new-look backcourt.
As far as picking up the slack off the bench for Gibson, Nikola Miroticscored a team-high 23 points on 6-for-13 shooting, and even seldom-used Doug McDermott received15-plus minutes of playing time.
‘‘There are times where things do go your way,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘The measure of a man is what you do when it is not going your way. As I said [Monday], no one is going to feel sorry for us. It’s up to us to make good.
‘‘You don’t get here by accident; if you’re here, you’re a great player. Understand what your job is, go out there and do your job and give our team a chance to win. That’s all we can ask our guys to do: Put everything you have into it and just try to find a way to win.’’
The Wizards did everything they could to make that easier, starting with Nene and all of his tough talk going into the game. After emphasizing how much he hated the Bulls, Nene went scoreless and fouled out, though not without trying to cause an incident with Joakim Noah. He slapped Noah on a layup attempt with 8:13 left in the game and was assessed a flagrant 1 foul.
Noah looked as though he wanted to retaliate. But considering his foundation released an anti-violence video earlier in the day, he practiced what he preached.
‘‘It’s part of the process, and I really don’t know what to say right now,’’ Noah said. ‘‘I’m just happy we won and happy I kept my composure.
‘‘You know, just trying to put out a video a couple of hours before the game about nonviolence and trying to teach these kids about the big picture. So it wouldn’t have been a good look, not today. You know what I mean? Not today.’’