- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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"His energy," Hinrich said before Wednesday's practice. "His versatility defensively, he can guard so many different positions. He's one of our better athletes on the wing so really just his verstility. He does so much for us."
The Bulls are confident they'll be able to win games without Butler, but Hinrich is right in his assessment. What the Bulls will miss most is the fact that Butler was able to guard multiple positions at a high level. Hinrich, the most likely choice to start in Butler's place, is a solid defender, but he doesn't have the length or athleticism Butler possesses. Mike Dunleavy is a better shooter than either player, but he has struggled on the defensive end throughout the season.
No matter what decision Tom Thibodeau makes before Thursday night's game, both players seem up to the challenge and have been in the league long enough to know what the veteran coach expects from them.
"Yeah, I think we have guys to plug in," Dunleavy said. "Fill roles on kind of a different nightly basis. I know Kirk and myself will do whatever helps the team win and that fits right in to when someone goes down with an injury."
Thibodeau has always stuck to the mantra that the Bulls have "more than enough" components to win. The key will be how he handles Hinrich's minutes over the four-games-in-five-nights stretch. Hinrich, who has dealt with multiple injuries over the past few seasons, appeared to be getting in a rhythm in which he was playing 25-30 minutes a game instead of 35-40 as he did last season. Thibodeau must be cautious with Hinrich, given that he will likely use him a lot as a point guard playing Derrick Rose off the ball.
The other player to take into consideration in a Butler replacement discussion is rookie Tony Snell. Thibodeau has shown a hesitation over the years to play rookies early, but he did give Marquis Teague some spot minutes last season when Hinrich went down to prove what he can do. The safe bet is Snell continues to watch and learn as Hinrich and Dunleavy share the minutes.
Either way, the Bulls know they will be in for a tough test against the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center -- a place where they have not played well over the years.
"It's always a tough game here," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "They play tough, high altitude, great crowd, so it's a tough break losing Jimmy. No excuses. I wish him a speedy recovery and it's on us to hold it down."
Getting used to the air: Speaking of the altitude, Thibodeau decided to bring his team to Denver a little early for the second year in a row to help them get acclimated to the higher elevation. In theory the idea is good, but Noah and his teammates know they got blown out last season.
"I think it's difficult to play [them] because they're a tough team to play matchup-wise up and down," Hinrich said. "Altitude, I played against Colorado in college in Boulder, too (while attending Kansas University). And it always seemed like the first couple minutes you're going to get that burn [in your chest] and then it was fine after that."
Thibs defends decision: Thibodeau put Butler back into Monday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats even after he injured his toe. He didn't back off the decision Wednesday when asked if he regretted it.
"You have your medical team back there and they're telling you whether a guy can go or not," Thibodeau said. "So I have to trust the trainer, I have to trust the doctor, and obviously you trust Jimmy. And he wanted to give it a shot and they thought he could so we did and this is the way it worked out."