CHICAGO -- While amazing performances continue to come out of Oklahoma City, Houston and elsewhere, Dwyane Wade says he believes Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler shouldn't take a backseat to any of them.
"He's playing as good as anybody in the league right now," Wade told ESPN.com on Saturday after the Bulls' 123-118 win over the Toronto Raptors. "What he's doing in the fourth quarter is even more impressive than the stat line at the end of the day. That stat line is amazing, but everybody knows we're going to Jimmy. And to still be able to make those plays, make those things, it's incredible. And then to still guard one or two of the other best players on the other end of the floor in the fourth, that's impressive, man. He's playing out of this world right now. His confidence is out the roof, and that goes a long way."
Wade's comments came after Butler scored 42 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out five assists, pulling the Bulls out of a 19-point deficit to win a hard-fought game over the Raptors. Over his past five games, Butler is averaging 33.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists. What is most impressive to Wade and Butler's teammates and coaches is how the All-Star swingman continues to play down the stretch in games. Butler scored 32 of his 42 points in the second half and overtime and went 18-for-20 from the foul line.
"So many guys in this league have talent," Wade said. "Everyone in this league has talent. There's a lot of things that separate guys and that's one of them -- the mentality. The mentality that it takes to -- even if you're having a bad game like in Cleveland he wasn't shooting well, to still be able to do that in the clutch, that's big time. Those players, those are special players right there. And he's putting himself in the category of just special."
Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg says he believes Butler has elevated himself into the MVP conversation with his recent play.
"I think so," Hoiberg said. "Just what he's done for this team. This stretch that he's got going right now, he continues to add to his game. He's really playing with the ball in his hands a lot now ... he's just pretty much straight up our point guard for a lot of the games right now. And he's obviously been phenomenal."
For his part, Butler is trying to focus on what he can control in the near future. He knows if he keeps playing this way he will draw some MVP consideration, but the 27-year-old also understands he has to keep finding ways for the Bulls to win games.
"I don't know about all that," Butler said of the MVP talk. "I'm taking it one game, one step at a time. All of that's way down the road from here. And we got to continue to win even if that's ever going to be a question."
Butler's string of recent high-level performances comes as a new wave of trade rumors surfaces around him.
"My job's not to worry about what the media is writing," Butler said. "What's going on on the outside world. My job is to come in here and work, help this team win games. I tell everybody, just like they tell me: We're all we got that's in here. Good, bad, indifferent, we can always lean on each other. With all the hibbity-hoopla that's going around, just keep being you, keep working."
Butler's work ethic is what has endeared him to Wade the most during Wade's first few months with the Bulls. Wade has repeatedly praised his young teammate for how much effort he puts into his game.
"When a guy comes in the league as a defender like he did and plays so hard, and then in a short period of time turn himself into an All-Star, a 20-point-a-game scorer, you know he's putting work in," Wade said. "And then once I got here I saw it. The thing about him, the last few games, he's been balling out of control. But every night he's in the gym, he's putting the work in, and I love to see it. He's not at home kicking his feet up because he had a 52-point game or a 40-point game. He's still working. The guy wants to be great. Now his confidence is there and he can do whatever he wants out there."
That confidence has been on full display late in games recently, as Butler has lifted the Bulls to three straight wins.
"We know going down the stretch we're going to run sets to make sure he has the ball in his hands," Wade said. "Everyone knows now. There's no doubt about it that we're going to him. You can see the swagger in him. He wants it. He's a guy he doesn't want to let no one down ... the guy right now is playing at an unbelievable level."
Butler always believed he could be this kind of player, but he's trying to take all the recent accolades in stride.
"It's no surprise to [Wade] because I love what I do so much," Butler said. "I don't want to let this organization down, my teammates, the city, I live for this. This is what I wake up for every single morning."