Jimmy Butler practiced with his teammates Friday for the first time since he injured his left knee
Feb. 5 and could return when the Bulls face the Rockets on Saturday at the United Center.
Whether or not he returns, Butler said the Bulls need to ramp up their sense of urgency in the final 22 games.
‘‘I live for these moments,’’ he said. ‘‘I want everybody else to wake up right now and realize how important each and every one of these last 22 games are.’’
Is Butler surprised that playing hard, which was the Bulls’ trademark under former coach Tom Thibodeau, has become a question mark?
‘‘Yes and no,’’ he said. ‘‘When you play hard, you win games. I don’t think we play hard all the time. You have to bring it every night against every opponent. Because everybody in this league has a roster full of NBA players.’’
The transition to coach Fred Hoiberg and the spate of injuries, especially to key defenders, are among the reasons for the Bulls’ softness. But that’s not the focus now.
‘‘You can sit here and say this or say that,’’ Butler said. ‘‘It doesn’t matter. We just have to play hard. I can’t tell you why. We just haven’t done it. Sometimes we let off the gas, and it’s not a pretty sight.’’
So will he play Saturday?
‘‘I do not know,’’ Butler said. ‘‘That’s a good question. I do not know. [I wouldn’t play] if my body’s not ready, my knee. I need to go get some treatment right now.’’
While encouraged, Hoiberg also said Butler’s return will be a game-time decision.
‘‘He looked good,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘He’s not in very good shape, but that will come very quickly for Jimmy. He’s been working extremely hard throughout this process to get himself ready to go out and play. [Friday] was a step in the right direction. We’ll see how he’s feeling [Saturday] morning. We won’t rule [a Saturday return] out, but he’s still got to come in and get through shootaround and then hopefully he’ll be ready to go.”
Taj Gibson (hamstring), who didn’t play Wednesday at Orlando, also will be a game-time decision.
“He’s another guy that can defend, one of our top defenders,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘When you have Jimmy out of the lineup and Jo [Noah] obviously has been out and you have Taj out of the lineup, we’ve struggled [defensively]. To get Taj and Jimmy on the floor together, I think, would definitely be a step in the right direction.”
Like Butler, Hoiberg is intent on seeing the Bulls rekindle their intensity and salvage something from a troubling season. They are ninth in the Eastern Conference but only a half-game behind the
No. 8 Pistons, who hold the final playoff slot.
‘‘I told our guys today it’s such an exciting time of year,’’ Hoiberg said. ‘‘It’s that time of year where teams are doing everything in their power to play their best basketball when it matters most. That’s where I challenged our guys. It’s time. We’re getting healthy. We’re getting our guys back. Now it’s about going out there and correcting all the things that have been costing us, especially on the defensive end.’’
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