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Bulls’ Jimmy Butler receives surprise blessing

Updated: May 12, 2012 8:21AM

When this season’s condensed NBA schedule was released, it would have been easy to dismiss Bulls rookie Jimmy Butler.

It wasn’t for a lack of talent. Simply, with so many games in a shorter span, the schedule was light on the practice time Butler would need to get acclimated to the NBA game.

But injuries forced him into the rotation, where he has emerged as a standout defender who could be a weapon off the bench in the

‘‘Defense is a big part of my game, and I try really hard,’’ Butler said. ‘‘My teammates, they have the confidence in me that I can guard whoever I’m lined up against. I think that’s big, but it’s not just me on defense. It’s me and four other guys, and that makes it a lot easier knowing that the tough matchup I may have on a given night, I have four defenders behind me giving me great help.’’

As the season has gone on, coach Tom Thibodeau has placed more responsibility on Butler. When the Bulls last hosted the New York Knicks on March 12, Butler checked Carmelo Anthony. The task of guarding one of the league’s elite scorers raised Butler’s confidence and also gave him pause to sigh when talking before the Bulls’ final regular-season game against the Knicks on Tuesday.

On the prospect of guarding Anthony again, ‘‘just play hard and try to crowd him as much as possible,’’ Butler said. ‘‘He hits tough shots. He’s a great player. Everybody knows that. So the only thing you can try to do is just be a pest and stay underneath him and things like that.’’

Butler could see more of Anthony in the playoffs. The Bulls occupy first place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the Miami Heat, while the Knicks are in contention for a seventh or eighth seed.

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