Marco Belinelli sat with an ab strain which gave Jimmy Butler his first career start at shooting guard. Butler responded with a career high 20 points on just 11 shots to go along with nine boards, two assists, three steals, and a block. Not a bad box score for someone in the mix to start at shooting guard next season.
Butler largely played to his strengths by forcing the issue at the basket and getting hacked. He shot eight of nine from the free throw line accounting for more than half of the Bulls free throws. Chicago needs a player who can draw a foul occasionally to get them those easy points, and outside of Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler is the best on the team at it.
What turned a good offensive night into a great one was Jimmy knocking down both of his three point attempts. If Butler can find consistency in knocking down his open threes then he'll become the ultimate starting shooting guard next to Rose. His defense is tremendous, his hustle is tremendous, he can add many things while on the floor, but the area you get most concerned about is whether he can consistently knock down the open jumper.
He's shooting 32.4% from beyond the arc this season which is pretty far away from where he likely needs to be as a major minute two guard for the Bulls, but the improvement in his shot from last season has been significant.
The Bulls won the game through offensive rebounding combined with decent offensive efficiency. The Bulls are typically tough to beat when they shoot over 45%, but their defense didn't especially show up, allowing the Timberwolves to shoot 50% from the floor. What did show up is their rebounding domination. You don't need to shoot a better percentage than the other team when you can hoist up 11 more shots.
Chicago also uncharacteristically fired away from long range all night long, but connected at a solid percentage knocking down 10/26 from beyond the arc. The Timberwolves hit half their threes but only shot 12. In the end, the Wolves hung around for most of the game but never seriously threatened bringing the lead down to five at one point in the fourth before the Bulls grabbed an offensive rebound and knocked down a three which was symbolic of the results on the night.
Nate Robinson gave the Bulls good 'Nate' scoring a team high 22 while Deng and Boozer chipped in 17 and 19 as well. Taj Gibson left the game after banging knees with Ricky Rubio but returned later when the game started to get close and should be fine for Wednesday's tilt against Miami.
No word on whether or not Marco will play next game, but it's assumed Joakim Noah, who hates the Heat with a passion, will return against Miami. I'd expect they'll both be back giving the Bulls as near a full compliment of players as they've had for awhile with just Rose and Hamilton likely missing the game.
That said, I'm not holding my breath on the Bulls ending the Miami win streak.
What is nice is that the Bulls had a quality weekend after losing that tough game to Denver and getting blown out by the Trailblazers. The Bulls needed a couple wins and got them. The Bulls are now two games up on Boston for the sixth spot, a half game behind Atlanta for the fifth, and two and a half behind the Nets for fourth.
The Pacers have fallen behind the Knicks for 2nd, but only by percentage points. As long as the Bulls don't finish eighth it's probably a crapshoot on what will end up best without knowing which other teams finish where, but with a four game lead on Milwaukee and a soft schedule remaining the Bulls are a virtual lock to finish 7th or above.
If they get Derrick Rose back, and Rose can play like himself, then the Bulls would be my favorites to make it to the ECF even if they finish in seventh, and even without Rose they'd have a chance (albeit a much smaller one) as the East is nothing to get excited about outside of the Heat.