Dwyane Wade grabbed the headlines when he signed with Chicago in the summer, but Jimmy Butler is reminding everyone that he's a force for the Bulls.
The 6-foot-7 Butler has put Chicago on his shoulder the past week. The Bulls have won five of their last six games overall, and they are 3-1 on their current road trip, which continues Tuesday night in Denver against the Nuggets.
Butler continued his strong play with 40 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Sunday's 118-110 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. It capped a week in which he averaged 27.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists.
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It earned him NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.
Overall, Butler is averaging 25.1, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists this season and has blossomed with the departure of Derrick Rose as well as the addition of Wade.
“He's playing with a tremendous amount of confidence,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told The Chicago Sun-Times. “He feels like every time he steps on the floor that he's the best player out there. More often than not he's right.”
Butler has helped Chicago (9-5) dig out of an early hole this season to provide a challenge to the world champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the Central Division. He has taken to his expanded role and is learning from his new teammate and three-time world champion with Miami.
“I'm talking to D-Wade before the game and he's just telling me how I have to approach the game,” Butler told CBSSports.com. “You go out there with a killer instinct every night. Make them adjust to you. Go out with a full head of steam and show them why you are one of the best players on the floor. That's what I try to do every single night. If it's coming from him, there has to be some truth to it.”
The Bulls have a chance to finish 5-1 on their road trip that wraps up in Philadelphia on Friday. First they'll have to get past the Nuggets (5-8), who have won two of their last three and are getting strong play off the bench from Wilson Chandler.
Chandler, who missed all of last season following hip surgery, is averaging 22 points and eight rebounds over the last four games. The Nuggets have also started to get good production from rookie guard Jamal Murray. He had a team-high 18 points in the win over Utah on Sunday and is starting to feel more comfortable after a tough start.
“He just continues to grow in front of our eyes,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “When he gets confident and he puts that ball up I think it's going in every time he shoots it.”
The Nuggets are getting healthier, too. Guard Will Barton returned against the Jazz after missing nine games with a sprained left ankle. He had seven points in 19 minutes and is still feeling his way after missing so much time.
“I knew going in he wasn't going to be the Will Barton we love and want back because he's been out for so long,” Malone said.
Barton's presence will be needed against the Bulls, who rested Wade against the Lakers. The key to winning might be to stop Butler from having another great game.