Fred Hoiberg admittedly has peeked ahead.
Not far enough to recite the remaining 20 games left on the regular-season schedule, but far enough to know that if each game isn’t met with a certain urgency, 20 games is all this team will have left to play before taking an unexpected early summer vacation.
“Right now the way we’re looking at it, it’s a one-game playoff series,’’ Hoiberg said of each game remaining.
Starting with Milwaukee Monday night, as the Bulls beat the struggling Bucks, 100-90, at the United Center, and again did so short-handed.
After declaring the Bulls were a healthy product following the morning shootaround, Hoiberg announced before the game that Jimmy Butler was out with swelling in his left knee. Not the best of news, especially since Butler missed 11 games with that same left knee strained.
“Obviously, there’s concern,’’ Hoiberg said of Butler. “Jimmy is a warrior. He’s going to play through anything.
“We’ve had the last month playing without Jimmy. With Jimmy and Jo [Noah] out of the lineup, we’ve obviously struggled at the defensive end.’’
Check that: Without Butler the Bulls (32-30) have struggled on both ends.
While they were able to get by Milwaukee, in the 11 games Butler did miss with the strain the team was just 3-8. With Butler headed for further testing the next few days, and upcoming games in San Antonio, home against Miami, and then in Toronto and Washington, this is not a team that can afford to be without their best all-around player.
Meanwhile, almost lost in all the Butler injury talk is how the organization has done a complete 180 when it comes to the narrative of injuries this season.
The front office used back channels to help build their case in the eventual firing of former coach Tom Thibodeau by making it known that the coach’s supposed heavy minutes led to a lot of the injury problems plaguing the roster.
If Thibodeau would have played Butler 34 minutes in his first game in over a month like he was cleared to play Saturday against Houston, well, lineup the pitchforks and torches with the front office supplying the fire.
Instead, the numerous Bulls injuries this season have been downplayed as bad luck.
Bad luck that wasn’t going away.
Besides being without Butler, Aaron Brooks (right patellar tendonitis) and Bobby Portis (left orbital contusion) were knocked out of the game and did not return.
“Just being tough,’’ Taj Gibson said of yet another short-handed win. “Just having the will to win. Guys have been battle-tested. Even in those game where we got beat up a lot and took a lot of tough [losses]. Everybody has to do whatever it takes to get the win. Get the loose balls, just be scrappy. Any small little play can help you go far and help you win games.’’
Not that Milwaukee offered much resistance, as Pau Gasol had his second triple-double of the season, scoring 12 points with 17 rebounds and 13 assists, and Derrick Rose led the team in scoring, putting up 22 points on 9-for-18 shooting.
What Hoiberg was more impressed with was the team again getting off to a quick start for a second consecutive game, outscoring Milwaukee 25-16 in that first quarter.
“We came out of the gate with the right mentality, especially holding them to 16 in the first quarter,’’ Hoiberg said. “That was a big emphasis in this one, getting off to a fast start.’’