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Butler, Noah fill Deng void for Bulls

Updated: February 18, 2014 6:37AM

WASHINGTON — It would not have come as a surprise if Jimmy Butler had driven the team bus to the airport Wednesday night, then flown the charter from Orlando, Fla., to Washington.

After all, Butler set a franchise record in the 128-125 triple-overtime victory over the Magic, playing 60 minutes.

“I’m sure I’m going to hear about it,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau joked.

If there’s one aspect of Thibodeau’s coaching that is often under the microscope, it’s the heavy minutes he dishes out.

That was evident in the 2011-12 season, when former Bulls forward Luol Deng led the league in minutes with 39.4 per game. Deng was again atop that category last season at 38.7, and center Joakim Noah was right there through the first two months until plantar ­fasciitis limited him in the second half.

With Deng traded to the Cavaliers, Butler seems to have inherited the minutes-warrior role, but Thibodeau actually had shown some restraint this season, with Deng 13th in the league at 36.4 ­minutes.

Even with the heavy workload Wednesday, Butler was averaging 34.2 minutes, so the Magic game was more aberration than anything else. And Butler’s teammates appreciated every second he played.

“I feel like we should definitely bake Jimmy a cake for playing 60 minutes,’’ Noah said. “I’m really happy for him that he got a franchise record.

‘‘No, seriously, there’s nothing better than that feeling of getting on the bus and you’ve won. Even guys who say, ‘Oh, I don’t care.’ But [Magic players are] driving home after the game, and they’re [ticked] off. There’s no better feeling than winning a basketball game. It’s the best.’’

Butler’s effort was inspiring, but almost lost in the victory was Noah’s performance and what he has done since Deng was traded to Cleveland.

Noah played 49 minutes and had 26 points, 19 rebounds and six ­assists.

In his last five games, Noah is averaging 15 points, 15 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 blocks and 38.2 ­minutes.

“There are not many players like [Noah],’’ Thibodeau said. “His all-around defense, every aspect from the rebounding effort to seeing things early, seeing how they’re developing. But probably the most important thing is to make two, three and four efforts on the same play. Oftentimes, I don’t know how he gets to the ball, but he gets to the ball. That helps unite and inspire your team.

“The thing right now about his offense that has made him so good is he’s making quick decisions, and they’re right on the money. No holding the ball, just a quick decision, and I think that’s helping the team a lot.

“He has a great will to win, no matter what’s going on in the game. Even when things aren’t going his way, when the game is on the line, he’s going to find a way to make something happen. That’s ­important.’’


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