CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler swears there's nothing wrong.
He doesn't want to use the heel injury, which caused him to miss four games before the All-Star break, as an excuse. He doesn't want to use all the minutes he has played so far as a reason why he is struggling in the dog days of the 82-game grinder of an NBA season. But after watching Butler put up only seven shots in the Chicago Bulls' 101-91 loss to the LA Clippers on Saturday night, the reality is that Butler just hasn't found a rhythm since the All-Star break.
"I want to get everybody involved," Butler said. "I think that's what coaches want me to do. I think that's what everybody wants me to do. I'm trying to do that. I think we all know I can shoot the ball at any time. Good shot, bad shot, but I don't want to do that. I don't care what my stats look like, man. Just win me the game."
The Bulls have had some success recently, having won five of their last seven games even after a brutal second half against the Clippers, but a closer look at Butler's numbers reveals that the Bulls could be in serious trouble unless the All-Star swingman gets things rolling again.
Butler is 28-for-74 from the field in the five games since the break. After averaging almost 10 free throws a game during the season, Butler is averaging just 5.2 attempts over the past five games. After consistently driving to the rim earlier in the season and looking for contact, Butler is settling more for jump shots in the past few weeks. Part of that is because he continues seeing double teams, but he has been seeing multiple defenders throughout games all season and has imposed his will on teams.
Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg brushed off the notion that Butler has been too passive lately, but he did acknowledge that his team needs to do a better job of getting Butler comfortable.
"Obviously he's our best player," Hoiberg said. "We got to get him going."
Even on an off night, Butler still had 16 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. His game was still better than any of his teammates' performances. Dwyane Wade had one of his worst games of the season, shooting 2-for-11 from the field and scoring only 10 points.
The issue for Hoiberg is that the Bulls rely so heavily on Butler that when he doesn't play at the high level he normally plays, the Bulls don't have a lot of other answers.
The defensive intensity that had helped propel the Bulls in their biggest win of the season on Thursday night against the Golden State Warriors wasn't there in the second half Saturday. They allowed a Clippers team, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, to run them up and down the floor.
"We go out in the first half, we're free-flowing," Hoiberg said. "We score 61 points, had 13 in transition. We had 13 assists. The ball was moving. Everyone was playing for each other. In that second half, we missed shots, we didn't get calls, and it affected us. It affected us on the other end. ... We have to find a way to fight through the tough times."
That has been the Bulls' biggest flaw for the better part of three seasons, though. They can't find consistency. They couldn't maintain the momentum they earned after Thursday. They couldn't even maintain the rhythm they found in the first half Saturday. After scoring 32 points in the second quarter against the Clippers, the Bulls scored only 30 points the rest of the game. After turning the ball over only six times in the first 24 minutes, they turned it over 13 times in the final 24.
"We can't turn the ball over," Butler said. "I think that's the main thing. We were whipping that ball over in the first half, taking care of it, getting easy shots. In the second half, we didn't do that. That was the game within itself. They were getting out in transition. They were making their shots. They were guarding. And you saw what happened."
Like every other team in the league, the Bulls have to take care of the ball more and play better defense to close out games. But if they are serious about a playoff run, Butler has to be the player who takes them there. He doesn't have the luxury of much help around him on the roster. If he doesn't get things rolling again at a high level soon, the Bulls' chances of securing of a playoff berth will go down the drain with him.