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Bulls’ Jimmy Butler spending loads of time with NBA’s best

SacramenKings forward Rudy Gay right drives basket as Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) defends during first half an NBA

Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay, right, drives to the basket as Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago on Saturday, March 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: April 17, 2014 6:49AM



LeBron James last Sunday, James Harden on Thursday, then Rudy Gay on Saturday.

This week it likely will be Kevin Durant on Monday, followed by Paul George four days later.

Just another week for Jimmy Butler as the Bulls’ new defensive stopper.

‘‘I think Jimmy’s really smart,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said of his third-year player drawing the toughest assignments each night. ‘‘I think each time around against somebody, he gets better and better, and he understands that he’s going to have a primary scorer every night.

‘‘When we had Luol [Deng], it was a little different because we had a little more versatility. But now the burden is more on him, and I think he’s accepted that challenge, but his approach has been really good right from the beginning. Now that he’s got experience, I think he’s even better. But the important thing, too, is you have to make those guys work for their points. It’s very difficult to guard them individually, and the team has to be tied into them as well.’’

Butler making the opposition work for their points has come at a price, the latest being sore ribs after an elbow by James.

‘‘I love that — I love that my teammates and my coaches have confidence in me that I can guard the best player no matter what position he may be at,’’ Butler said. ‘‘That brings a smile to my face and just lets me know that I’m wanted on this team. That’s an incredible feeling.’’

If guarding the NBA’s elite scorers didn’t tell Butler he’s wanted, how about the minutes he has played lately? He entered Saturday night’s game with the Sacramento Kings averaging 40.7 minutes per game in March, including the 48 he clocked last week against the Miami Heat.

‘‘It takes a toll, but I think that’s part of the job,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Being mentally and physically fatigued, you just have to fight through it. I feel like that’s where we’re all at this time of the year.’’

Around the rim

With 16 regular-season games left, Thibodeau admitted to scoreboard watching.

“You have to be aware,’’ he said. ‘‘You’re always looking at what’s going on. Go step by step. It’s all a process.’’

◆ Thibodeau said the biggest reason newly acquired Jimmer Fredette hasn’t seen more minutes is a lack of extended practices this time of year.

◆ If Joakim Noah continues to lead the Bulls in total assists, he’ll be the first center to lead his team in that category since the San Antonio Spurs’ David Robinson in 1993-94.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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