With Derrick Rose sidelined once again by knee troubles, and Taj Gibson’s sprained ankle in a walking boot, the Bulls once again had the help-wanted sign out when they played a Sunday matinee against the Clippers.
They may need a bigger sign.
Their leading scorer, Jimmy Butler, left the game with a sprained left elbow with 9:24 left in the third quarter, and the Bulls went on to lose 96-86 before a United Center crowd of 21,680.
Butler ran into a screen set by 6-11, 265-pound DeAndre Jordan while chasing Chris Paul. He spent some time on the bench before departing for the locker room, but did not return to the game.
“I think it’s a hyper-extension,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’ll have an MRI and we will find out more [on Monday].’’
Nikola Mirotic played like a bull who’d seen a red cape, pouring in a career high 29 points, including 16 of the Bulls’ 17 fourth-quarter points. But it wasn’t enough for him or the Bulls.
“I don’t really care about 29 points,’’ Mirotic said. “We didn’t win. Tough game for us. Without Jimmy, somebody needs to shoot the ball. I made some shots, but I feel bad because my team lost. Hopefully, Jimmy and Taj are going to be back soon. We really need these players.’’
It was the fifth straight win at the United Center for the Clippers, who have posted victories in 12 of their last 14 trips to Chicago.
Breaking open a tight game, the Clippers outscored the Bulls 27-17 in the fourth quarter. Chris Paul (28 points, 12 assists) led L.A. And Jordan (nine points, 26 rebounds) was a beast in the paint.
Playing through a winter illness, Pau Gasol (four points, 2 for 13) had a tough day at the office. So did Kirk Hinrich (0 points, 0 for 7), who is playing through a series of nagging injuries.
“I want to give Pau a lot of credit,’’ Thibodeau said. “Pau is sick, very sick. He knows we’re shorthanded and he got out there and gave us everything he had. Kirk is battling injuries. He’s giving what he’s got.’’
The Bulls need more. And it’s not clear when they’ll get it.
They are 8-6 without Rose this season. Beyond Rose, it’s not clear when Gibson, who was sidelined by a sprained left ankle, will return. It was the 10th game Gibson has missed this season, the ninth due to ankle problems.
Asked if Gibson might miss more than Sunday’s game, Thibodeau said, “It’s day to day. We’ll see how it unfolds.’’
Gibson played only nine minutes in the Bulls’ win on Friday vs. Minnesota, when he injured the ankle. He left the UC in a walking boot after the loss to the Clippers.
And now, if Butler is sidelined, that would be another big blow to a wounded team. As the Clippers showed down the stretch, the Bulls will be very short on firepower.
For all their troubles, Thibodeau saw an opportunity missed on Sunday.
“We just have to find a way to win,’’ the coach said. “That game was winnable down the stretch. We didn’t get it done.’’