As the Chicago Bulls try to resume the roll they took into the All-Star break, their leading scorer and best defender appears healthy enough to immediately contribute to the cause.
A strained shoulder that forced Jimmy Butler to sit the final game before the break isn’t expected to keep the All-Star from trying to help the visiting Bulls record a fifth consecutive victory Friday night against the Detroit Pistons, who were active before Thursday’s trade deadline.
After enduring a 5-10 stretch, Chicago (34-20) won four straight, highlighted by a 113-98 victory over Cleveland last Thursday.
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"We fought through the adversity," guard Derrick Rose told the Bulls’ official website. "Winning these last four games is a sign of relief for everyone. I’m just happy we’re on the right track."
While Rose continued his solid play with 30 points and seven assists against the Cavaliers, the team sat Butler after he aggravated the shoulder in a 104-86 win over Sacramento two days earlier.
Averaging career highs of 20.4 points and 5.8 rebounds, Butler appears ready to return after playing nine minutes in his first All-Star game and practicing this week.
"He was great. He looked really good," coach Tom Thibodeau said after practice Wednesday.
With veteran Mike Dunleavy back from missing more than five weeks with an ankle injury, Chicago should have the chance to improve on a 13-3 mark when its regular starters – Dunleavy, Rose, Butler, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah – are on the court.
Chicago also expects to have backup guard Kirk Hinrich after he missed three straight games with a toe injury.
With Butler leading the way, the Central Division-leading Bulls appear poised to maintain a strong defensive effort that’s helped them hold the last four opponents to an average of 88.3 points and 43.5 percent shooting. They allowed 102.6 points per contest on 46.1 percent shooting in the previous 15.
"When we get back, (we can) really be focused," said Rose, who has averaged 22.3 points while playing a season-high 16 consecutive games.
Chicago has won 22 of 24 versus Detroit (21-33), and held the Pistons to fewer than 100 points in all but three of those contests and each of the last eight.
Rose scored 24, Butler added 19 and Gasol and Noah combined for 30 points and 29 rebounds as the Bulls had their regular starting five in a 102-91 home victory over the Pistons on Nov. 10.
That was just another rough moment amid a 5-23 start for the Pistons, who have won 16 of 26 since but dropped three of five and seven of 11 heading into the break.
Detroit, which plays 18 of its final 28 games against teams currently in playoff position, is 11th in the Eastern Conference but two games out of the final postseason spot.
On Thursday, Detroit acquired guard Reggie Jackson from Oklahoma City in a three-team deal and brought forward Tayshaun Prince back in a trade with Boston. The Pistons dealt away guard DJ Augustin, forward Kyle Singler, forward Jonas Jerebko and guard Gigi Datome.
”Tayshaun Prince is certainly well known to fans in Detroit and we’re pleased to welcome him back,” team president and coach Stan Van Gundy said in a statement. ”He fills a position of need for us at small forward with his offensive and defensive versatility.”
Van Gundy needs his club to clamp down defensively after it allowed its past 11 opponents to shoot 37.7 percent from 3-point range. Opponents shot just 31.4 percent from long distance as Detroit won 12 of its previous 15.
"Our approach has got to be to get back to playing better defense," he said.
Forward Greg Monroe averaged 18.2 points in nine games and 13.1 rebounds over 13 before being held to six of each in a 104-87 loss to San Antonio on Feb. 11.
He’s been limited to 12.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game over his last five against the Bulls.