That much hyped showdown between Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard? Well, it just might be back on.
According to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, the swollen left knee that kept Butler out of the Monday night win over Milwaukee, was “quite a bit better,’’ Tuesday afternoon.
“We didn’t do much in practice,’’ Hoiberg said of Butler’s day. “We had a film session and then we walked through some different situations. His swelling has gone down and he feels a lot better than he did [Monday] night.’’
That also meant that no MRI was planned before the team left for San Antonio for the Thursday night meeting down in the Lone Star State.
If Butler has no setbacks on Wednesday, Hoiberg said the hope would be the two-time All-Star would be a thumbs up in yet another must-win game.
They’ll need him.
The Spurs have an NBA-best 30-0 home record, while Leonard has been mentioned in the MVP argument, averaging 20.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game, as well as considered the gold standard of two-way players in the game.
By the way, the same description used for Butler.
Like Leonard, Butler often guards the best scorer on the opposing roster, while averaging 22.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
In the first meeting between the two in early December, Leonard won the battle, outscoring Butler 25 to 14, but Butler won the war as the Bulls beat San Antonio, 92-89.
“They’re so good,’’ Hoiberg said of the Spurs. “It’s all their players. One through 15, whoever is asked to step up goes out and makes a big impact on that team. They’ve been together so long; I think that’s the biggest thing when you look at that team. They know each other so well. They know where they’re going to be. A lot of times there are no-look passes. The ball moves so well. They make simple plays and benefit from that.’’
Besides complimenting the Spurs, Hoiberg also had further questions to answer on the handling of Butler and the left knee.
After missing a month with the strain, Butler returned on Saturday in the win over Houston, played 34 minutes, and then was back on the shelf when the knee swelled up.
According to Hoiberg, there was a process of steps that Butler had to take, including checking with the guard every timeout in that Rockets win.
“I guess in talking to the doctors and the trainers, it’s not too unexpected to have a little bit of soreness after that, after the inactivity, but that’s what went into it,’’ Hoiberg said. “We didn’t just throw him out there and say, ‘All right, go see how you do.’ We put a lot of time and effort into seeing how he was going to feel going into that game and he responded well. He was exploding. He had no limitations. He had a couple dunks coming down in transition, he caught a lob from Pau [Gasol]. Everything went according to plan.
“Then unfortunately, what happens sometimes in these situations is he got a little bit of swelling in it. Again, it feels much better [Tuesday]. It doesn’t look like there’s anything structurally wrong with the knee. We’ll see how he is these next couple days leading into Thursday.’’