Don't blame Chicago Bulls fans for thinking the worst when Jimmy Butler was being rolled off the floor in a chair after a hard fall. They've had plenty of experience watching another star suffer serious injuries.
The early diagnosis says Butler's setback isn't in that category, which is some good news for the already banged-up Bulls as they continue their trip against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday night.
Memories of Derrick Rose tearing his ACL and then his meniscus – injuries that held the former MVP out for nearly two full seasons – surely crept into the minds of those watching Butler being wheeled off the court in Friday's 115-110 loss to Denver.
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Butler, who missed Wednesday's win over Sacramento with left knee tendinitis and was questionable against the Nuggets, came down hard after a drive to the basket in the second quarter. He stayed to shoot the free throws, then was helped back to the locker room.
The All-Star guard was averaging a team-high 22.4 points entering Friday and had 19 before going down. The Bulls are calling the injury a sprain in the same knee after the initial checkup.
A more serious injury would be devastating for the Bulls (27-22), who already lost Joakim Noah for the season and have yet to activate Mike Dunleavy Jr. because of injuries. Nikola Mirotic also has missed the last five with Appendicitis.
“We've got to be prepared to play without Jimmy for a time,” said coach Fred Hoiberg, who confirmed Butler will have an MRI in Minnesota early Saturday. “At the same time, we don't want to jump to any conclusions. The ligament seems stable.”
Chicago blew an 18-point lead while playing most of the game sans Butler and the entire contest without Pau Gasol, who suffered a left hand sprain against Sacramento.
Rose finished with 30 points, a season-high nine rebounds and seven assists while Taj Gibson added 18 for the Bulls, who were outscored 42-21 in the fourth quarter and fell to 2-3 on their seven-game trip.
“Right now we're taking it all in,” Rose said. “If (Butler) can't play, the guys behind him will have to come in and play good. He seemed in good spirits.”
Gasol might be able to return against Minnesota (15-36), which opens a three-game homestand after snapping a five-game skid with Wednesday's 108-102 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Andrew Wiggins finished with 31 points after scoring 30 the previous night against the Lakers, and Karl-Anthony Towns added 17 and 12 rebounds. Gorgui Dieng had his third double-double in four games and is averaging 16.3 points over his last six.
''We're gaining confidence every day,'' Wiggins said. ''We may lose, but we're not getting beaten bad and we're not getting blown out. We're fighting back and never giving up.''
The Timberwolves are also dealing with injuries. Veterans Kevin Garnett (sore right knee) and Kevin Martin (sore right wrist) each have missed the last six, and Nikola Pekovic has been out for the last two with a sore right foot.
Coach Sam Mitchell, though, has been pleased with how the younger players have taken advantage of more playing time and continue to progress.
“I'm excited every day because I can see the potential, I can see where we're going to go,” Mitchell said. “Our young guys are on the court every night and they're either winning or giving themselves a chance. What better do you want?”
Wiggins scored 31 points to help overcome 21 and 14 rebounds from Gasol in Minnesota's 102-93 overtime win at Chicago on Nov. 7.
The Bulls have won six straight at Minnesota since an overtime loss on Jan. 25, 2009.