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Bulls embracing physical style of play, and Lakers feel it

LOS ANGELES — Finally, an identity.

Jimmy Butler doesn’t know if it will last the entire season. He isn’t even sure if it will have staying power through the All-Star break.

But the Bulls finally have one under coach Fred Hoiberg, and they didn’t need Sunday’s 118-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers to -remind them of that.

“[The opposition] knows it’s not going to be easy,’’ Butler said of what this team brings to the court. “You can look forward to that when you play against this team. It’s going to be a nice and hard-fought game. That’s what we want, -because I think we’ll win a majority of them.’’

Jimmy Butler leaps away from Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell (center) and guard Nick Young to make a pass Sunday in Los Angeles. | Alex Gallardo/AP

Butler’s scoring 40 points and grabbing seven rebounds as he did against the Lakers (7-7) doesn’t hurt, especially with Dwyane Wade getting a rest after a grueling loss to the Clippers the night before.

But having that tough-guy identity isn’t new to this group. That’s also what the Bulls (9-5) used to have under former coach Tom Thibodeau.

They would grind on the opposition and had a street-fighter mentality. Butler embraced those days, especially when the only identity of last year’s team was that of -dysfunction.

He’s not alone.

“We’re a grinding team,’’ Wade said when describing its style of play. “We’re going to defend, and we’re going to make teams play. We continue with that mindset, we’re going to make teams play.’’

That has been evident on the six-game circus trip. Winning in Portland and Utah seldom has happened for the Bulls lately, but taking the 12-2 Clippers to the wire before falling in the final seconds was exactly what Wade was talking about.

“[The Clippers] had to dig deep into their bags to pull that one out at home, and that’s what we want to do,’’ Wade said. “If a team beats us, we want them to walk away scarred up and feeling like they got away with one.’’

The Lakers had to pay the price against an angry visiting team.

“[Butler] told me before the game, he said, ‘Coach, I’m going for 40 tonight,’ ’’ Hoiberg said. “And he did it.’’

Afterward, Butler didn’t deny that he called his shot.

“Did [Hoiberg] really say that?’’ Butler asked. “OK, I did say that. I just felt like that’s what my team was going to need from me, to tell you the truth. For me to be aggressive, for me to put the ball in the basket. With our second-leading scorer out [in Wade], I knew I had to pick up the pace a little bit, so that was my mindset.’’

Butler shot 14-for-23, as well as 12-for-14 from the free-throw line.

Still, the Bulls watched a 15-point fourth-quarter lead get cut to five with 1:12 left before saying enough is enough. Butler won a huge jump ball with Julius Randle, leading to a layup by Rajon Rondo. After a Lakers miss, Butler was fouled, -splitting two free throws to all but ice the game.

“All night long [Butler] was just attacking the basket,’’ Hoiberg said. “We got him going early.

“Jimmy just did an unbelievable job of getting himself to the basket, getting himself to the free-throw line, making plays for his teammates. Just an overall very impressive game. He’s not out there taking bad shots. He’s playing efficient basketball.

“When Jimmy’s going like that we’re just going to ride him.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com