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SportsMonday: Butler Buoys Bulls

I had some of my best stuff locked and loaded: I was going to spend today firing on the Bulls for having Dwyane Wade sit out last night's game in Los Angeles against the Lakers.

But then Jimmy Butler went off again (scoring 40 points) and his team won 118-110, extending a surprising run of season-opening success.

The Bulls are now 9-5 overall and 3-1 on a Circus Trip that this year featured four straight opponents who came in with better than .500 records. No trips to Sacramento or Phoenix in this one.

First, we have to step back a bit: If I believe in anything about pro sports it is that players should play unless they are injured. I don't understand why modern-day veteran athletes need game days off after no such thing existed in sports for decades. Playing basketball simply is not so difficult as to require veterans to sit out in these sorts of situations.

But I am increasingly in the minority. So many others celebrate Spurs coach Greg Popovich as a genius for resting his veterans at certain times despite the fact that they are not injured. In this case, Wade had played almost 36 minutes the night before in a hard-fought game against the Clippers, and the contest with the Lakers was the Bulls' third in four nights. And he and coach Fred Hoiberg agreed that he should sit out.

I'll still say there is no way I'm buying a season ticket for a team that adopts that approach, but hey, did I mention the Bulls won and they have a considerably better record so far than anyone anticipated? Outcome bias is so much more convenient!

I will also say that I think sometimes coaches have to protect themselves from themselves. Someone like Hoiberg could go into a given game with the idea that he would severely limit a veteran's minutes but then, if the game was close down the stretch, get away from his plan.

Hoiberg is having a heck of a year so far but there is one point of concern in particular - he still has a tendency to freeze down the stretch of close games.

Against both the Clippers and the Lakers it seemed clear that changes needed to be made in personnel as the clock wound down. Generally, big guys wear down when their minutes get extended.

Specifically, did anyone other than Hoiberg not believe that it was time for Nikola Mrotic to be replaced by Robin Lopez as the clock ticked under five, four and then three minutes last night? And it was a shame because otherwise the Bulls forward had a great game, finishing with 15 points and 15 rebounds.

Fortunately the fact that Mrotic no longer could hit a shot, drive to the basket or play decent defense during that time didn't doom his team in the end. Butler hit big shot after big shot, the Lakers finally stopped dropping in threes from other zip codes and the visitors held on.

The most amazing thing so far about Butler is the fact that he already has eight games in which he has taken double-digit free throws. Overall he has taken a league-leading 133 shots from the stripe and has made 88.7 percent of them.

The schedule now eases for the Bulls for a while. They take on a 5-8 Denver Nugget team in the Mile High City on Tuesday night and then wrap up the road trip by coming all the way back across the country to visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

In other words, no healthy veterans should have to take another day off for at least another week.

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Jimmy Butler Drops 40.

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See also:
* Bleacher Report: Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade Have Chicago Bulls Blowing Away Expectations.

* Los Angeles Times: Lakers Can't Stop Bulls' Jimmy Butler And Can't Stop Fouling Either.

* Tribune: Bulls Respond With Mental Toughness, Earn Impressive 118-110 Win Over Lakers.

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Jim "Coach" Coffman is our SportsMonday. He welcomes your comments.

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