(AP) — While the Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls are surely glad to have leading scorer Luol Deng back, they’re plenty excited about Jimmy Butler’s recent emergence, too.
His continued production could prove key during a six-game road trip.
Butler looks to build on yet another outstanding effort Wednesday night as the Bulls begin their trek by going for a sixth consecutive road win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
After receiving inconsistent minutes for much of the season, Butler broke out in a big way during Deng’s five-game absence due to a strained right hamstring. The former Marquette standout averaged 14.2 points – more than double his season mark – and 8.6 rebounds while starting each of those contests.
Butler returned to a reserve role Monday with Deng back, but he didn’t miss a beat, posting a career-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in a 93-85 win over Charlotte.
“Jimmy is playing great for us right now. We need that,” said Deng, who’s averaging 17.3 points but scored 12 on 3-of-8 shooting Monday. “He just has to keep growing and get better. He plays so hard. He’s been patient and he’s been working hard on his game.
“I’m just so happy for him because it takes time to understand the NBA game. There are still a lot of areas he can get better at but what he’s shown so far is just his hard work and he’s going to keep getting better.”
Though it wasn’t clear how Butler would respond to coming back off the bench, that doesn’t appear to be an issue.
“It’s all the same to me,” Butler told the Bulls’ official website. “Just come in off the bench with energy, rebounding, guarding, making open shots, getting to the free-throw line. That’s what my teammates need me to do. So when I’m out there, starter or off the bench, whatever it may be, I’m still the same player bringing the same things to the table.”
Winners of seven of nine, the Bulls (27-17) will be looking for Butler to keep things going as they kick off their longest trip of the season at Milwaukee (24-19). While Chicago has dropped back-to-back home games in this series, it has limited the Bucks to an average of 88.4 points in five straight wins at the Bradley Center.
Milwaukee returns home seeking a sixth win in seven games after cruising to a 117-90 rout at Detroit on Tuesday. Brandon Jennings scored 20 of his 30 points in the third quarter – including a 16-0 run by himself – as the Bucks matched their season high in points.
“He really has the ability to get into a rhythm, into a zone, and he can do it quick by making a couple of shots,” Mike Dunleavy, who added 17 points off the bench, told the league’s official website. “Then everything’s just falling. You can’t get caught up in it as a teammate but it’s always fun to watch.”
Jennings shot 11 of 19 against the Pistons and is averaging 23.8 points over his last five games. The Bucks have gone 21-6 when he makes more than 36 percent of his shots compared to 3-13 when he doesn’t.
Jennings is averaging just 11.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting in seven career home games against Chicago, though he scored a season-high 35 in a 104-96 road win Jan. 9.
The Bucks are 8-3 since Jim Boylan took over for former coach Scott Skiles.
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