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Jimmy Butler’s mentality on defense: If he leads, teammates will follow

Jimmy Butler didn’t like the word “soft’’ when a question about the Bulls’ defense was brought up Wednesday.

“Non-aggressive, inconsistent,’’ Butler said. “There’s a lot of words besides ‘soft.’ ’’

Whatever the adjective, Bucks guards Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton aren’t intimidated. That was evident by the way they went right at the Bulls on Monday to force Game 6 on Thursday.

Butler is taking it personally.

He should. He’s supposed to be the stopper on one of the premier defenses in the NBA. And though Butler has been that for most of the season, he isn’t thrilled with the defense’s overall inconsistency.

Butler’s solution: Take the lead. He believes the defense should start with him.

“The numbers say I’ve scored the ball pretty well this year,” he said. “I think I get stuck on that at times, to prove I can play on the offensive end instead of doing what got me to this point where I could prove I could play on the offensive end, which is defense.

“I really do have to get back to it. I’m not saying it because the cameras are on me right now. I’m saying it because that’s what it’ll take to win. Somebody has to lead us defensively.”

Besides Pau Gasol, Butler has been the most consistent Bulls starter since the beginning of the season. Unlike Derrick Rose, Butler isn’t looking to ease into games.

Why not be a leader?

“You can sit here and say we have to do this, we gotta block out, we have to rebound, we gotta guard, but if I’m saying it and not doing it, ain’t nobody paying attention to it,” Butler said. “So If I’m preaching it and showing I’m capable of doing it, everybody will follow suit.”

Butler not only has to show that he’s capable of being a stopper against Middleton and Carter-Williams, but that he can do it for 48 minutes, if need be.

Several Bucks players have said that Rose and Butler look tired late in games. Bucks forward Jared Dudley took it a step further, saying that’s why Butler and Rose were trying to force it on offense in the Bulls’ loss in Game 5.

“They don’t know how I feel,’’ Butler said. “They’re not in my skin or my shoes. I’m in great enough shape where I can handle the heavy minutes. I never complain. And I’ve got to produce, heavy minutes or not. I’ve got to make shots, make plays happen.’’

In Butler’s mind, it doesn’t matter that he’s averaging a team-high 26.6 points in the series with 6.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He entered the league as a stopper, and he has to get back to that mentality.

“I’m not worried about my stats,’’ Butler said. “I could care less about that. I go home, my brothers and my trainer, they’re telling me if it’s gonna change, it’s gonna start with you. Not on offense, but on defense. When you watch the film, you can see it. I’m worried about offense too much. I haven’t guarded the way I’m capable of.

“I’ll fix it.’’

That didn’t sound soft at all.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com
Twitter: @suntimes_hoops