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Time to see if Jimmy Butler can back up tough talk with action

WASHINGTON – Jimmy Butler is the best player on the Bulls roster.

That’s no longer up for debate.

Even the Derrick Rose apologists have to bow to the fact that Rose has become Robin to Butler’s Batman.

To take it a step further, in all honesty Butler has a better all-around skillset than Rose ever had, even in the 2010-11 MVP campaign.

Better rebounder, better passer, better outside shooter, and defense isn’t even in the same area code. And what’s nice about Butler is a willingness to work on his weaknesses, so there’s still no way to put a ceiling on his game.

The best is yet to come.

It better start coming over the next 17 games.

For all the tough talk about leadership and the Hollywood bravado, this team is now on Butler’s shoulders. He improved his game like a star, he was paid like a star, and now it’s time to carry a team like a star.

Monday night was a nice first step.

In upsetting Toronto, 109-107, with Pau Gasol (right knee), Mike Dunleavy (flu) and Rose (groin/listening to his body) on the shelf, Butler only scored 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting, but showed just how much he can impact a game without filling up the net.

His six assists led the team, and his defense on DeMar DeRozan saved the night. Not bad for a guy that played only one other game since Feb. 6, because of a left knee that won’t stop barking at him.

So there sat Butler in the visiting locker room of the Air Canada Centre following the win, towel draped over his head, ice on both knees, and exhaustion firmly planted all over his face, admitting that he has very little choice but to play the rest of the season shaking hands with pain.

“I think my knee is going to be banged up a little bit,’’ Butler said, when asked about gutting out the rest of the regular season. “Gotta learn to live with it, get my wind back, get in that gym, get my rhythm back.’’

A lot to get done and very little time to do it.

With the win over the Raptors, combined with Detroit’s no-show against the Wizards, the Bulls grabbed back the last playoff spot for at least one night. The playoff chase continues for both teams on Wednesday, with the Bulls playing in the nation’s capital and Detroit hosting Atlanta.

Butler sounded like he’s a go, as all eyes switch to Rose and his status.

One thing to keep in mind, however? Rose not playing isn’t a game-changer. The Bulls improved to 6-1 this season when Butler plays and Rose doesn’t, while they were just 22-21 when both play. And when Rose plays without Butler they are 4-6.

There’s no question they need both Rose and Butler once the playoffs start and isolation basketball dominates, but this team has no chance if Butler falls to injury again. None.

“Gotta risk it to get the biscuit,’’ Butler said, when asked about playing heavy minutes with the knee the rest of the season. “I gotta do whatever it takes to help my team win. I let the coaches know that. I let Gar [Forman] and Pax [John Paxson] know that.

“If I’m stepping out on that floor, I’m giving my all for as long as my team needs me.’’

They need him.

Now it’s time for Butler to show that he can back up tough talk and deliver.