CLEVELAND – Jimmy Butler started off the season insisting, “I’m betting on myself’’ when he turned down a last-minute take-it-or-leave-it contract offer from the Bulls.
He’s doubling down now on LeBron James.
“I look it as he really is a talented player in this league, but I don’t think that intimidates me not to the slightest bit,’’ Butler said of his matchup with James in the second round, best-of-seven playoff series. “I’m supposed to be the underdog, and I am. Whatever you want to call it. We’re both just competitors, we’re both NBA players, we both put one sneaker on at a time. It’s just going to be a competitive match-up tonight on both ends of the floor for both of us.’’
Tough talk, but made easier knowing Butler won’t exactly be on an island in guarding James. Tom Thibodeau-coached teams play a switching style of defense, so while Butler will be the primary James stopper, he knows he’ll have help.
“I’d like to think I’m big and physical as well, so, I don’t know, we’ll see,’’ Butler said of the showdown with the four-time MVP. “It’s playoff basketball and it’s never just me guarding him anyways, so we’ll see what all this matchup stuff is all about, to tell you the truth. I just know I want to play, I want to help win no matter who I’m guarding. Tonight it’s probably going to be LeBron James.’’
A lot has been made of this series since the Bulls were finally able to rid themselves of Milwaukee last week. First, the short-handed Cavaliers will be without Kevin Love (shoulder) for the entire postseason, and a suspended J.R. Smith for the first two games.
Also, there’s that little history that James has with the Bulls, single-handedly removing them from the playoffs in three of the last five seasons.
“The past is the past,’’ Butler said. “If we continue to set ourselves on what happened in the past, it’s going to continue to repeat itself. I think we’re moving forward. This is a new step. We can’t sit here and dwell on the past because no one feels sorry for us anyways, so why should we feel sorry for ourselves?’’
And while Butler was a mix of tough talk and playing the underdog role against James, his teammates know how important the matchup is for Butler.
“I think he’s focused,’’ Derrick Rose said of Butler. “I think he’s going to take that challenge. But who knows what he’s actually going through? When you’re playing against one of the best players in the NBA and you’re coming in this arena knowing how much he did in this arena, I think nerves play a little part to it. But I know during the game that should be gone. And he should be ready.’’
So does Rose have any advice for Butler against James?
“I’ll keep that to myself,’’ Rose said. “I talk to him for sure but as far as advice, I’ll keep that to myself.’’