- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jimmy Butler is on his most productive and healthiest stretch of the season, yet one nagging injury remains.
Butler admitted Saturday to a sore rib cage that is on the mend, saying he took a blow in last weekend’s game against the Miami Heat. Pressed a little further, Butler revealed the injury's source.
“LeBron (James) got me on a drive to the basket,” Butler said. “He let me feel that one.”
Sunday’s national televised game was the one where Butler thoroughly frustrated the Miami superstar, especially late in the game when his defense on James was the difference in the Bulls’ victory.
So was the shot to the ribs James’ attempt at revenge?
“It was an accident,” Butler said, dismissing the question.
Intentional or not, Butler knows that nicks and dings come with the territory, especially when guarding the opponents’ top scorer. On Sunday in was James, while Thursday night it was the Houston Rockets’ James Harden.
At a time of the year when all that hard defensive work should be a drain on a player, Butler has still managed to deliver on the offensive end as well. He’s scored in double figures in eight of the last nine games, including a 23-point performance in Tuesday’s defeat to the San Antonio Spurs.
“He has found a good rhythm offensively,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Defensively, he’s been there all year, but offensive rhythm, it’s hard to do that when you don’t practice or can only practice a certain amount. And that’s why practice is so important. It’s too good a league to not have good practice habits. That’s what prepares you to play.”
As the season has gone on and Butler has refined his defense, he finally seems comfortable asserting himself in other areas.
“I think I have been getting to the paint, getting to the line more and just not thinking,” Butler said. “I’m telling you, when I’m thinking about something, I’m pretty bad. When I don’t and I just shoot to make it, just play hard, everything falls into place.”
It makes things like an elbow to the midsection much easier to take.
“It hurt like hell, too, right into the ribs, but with treatment and ice, the usual and I’m right back at it,” Butler said.