Jimmy Butler says Bulls need to find defensive identity again to be real playoff threat

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There have been flashes this season when the Chicago Bulls have lived up to their potential. Beating the Trail Blazers back in December when Derrick Rose scored 31. Or beating the Rockets in January when Pau Gasol had 27. Or even topping the Oklahoma City Thunder just last week (although both teams were shorthanded). There have been others. But it has only been in flashes.

Mostly, this season has seen the Bulls look shorthanded due to injury, and even when healthy nothing like the contenders they are on paper.

It’s because the Bulls have gone away from their identity, if you ask Jimmy Butler, the team’s leading scorer and best perimeter defender. In years past the Bulls were known as tenacious defenders who will grind a team down in the Tom Thibodeau style. This season they are 13th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, allowing 102 points per 100 possessions. They have been pedestrian. Injuries are a part of that; they have ravaged this team — Rose and Jimmy Butler are out right now — but it is more than just that if you ask Butler.

“I think it’s more about us being able to score the ball so well now that we think we can outscore opponents,” Butler told ProBasketballTalk. “If we want to win a championship like we say we want to, we’re going to have to start guarding and stop trying to outscore people and just stop them from scoring as a whole.”

Thibodeau is not yelling about defense in practice. Well, any more than normal.

“He don’t have to talk about it, we know,” Butler said. “We’re not a team that’s normally giving up 100 points, let alone 110. We know that we have to guard, play better defense, so Thibs doesn’t have to tell us, we don’t have to tell each other, because we already know.”

Butler, speaking to PBT as part of Kellogg’s Give a Child Breakfast efforts, is out right now with an elbow strain he got on a fluke play as he tried to fight through a screen. He’s Chicago’s leading scorer at 20.2 points a game, and with him and the playmaking Rose out the Bulls’ offense is suffering (scoring less than a point per possession in their last five games). That remains the main thing for any Bulls playoff run.

“We just got to be healthy,” Butler said. “I think injuries happen but, you know, we just want to get back out there as soon as possible. Until then we have good enough guys and a deep enough team that they can hold the fort down.”

As for the line of thinking that Thibodeau and his hard-driving style is at the heart of the injury woes over the years for the Bulls, that doesn’t fly in the locker room if you ask Butler.

“Thibs doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Butler told PBT. “I think injuries, they just happen. I wasn’t overtired when I ran into the screen; it’s just basketball. It really does happen. It has nothing to do with Thibs. Thibs is good at what he does and he’s always putting us in a great position to win games, so kudos to him. He’s a great coach.”

Butler may be missing time on the court but it hasn’t changed his focus on a charitable efforts he admits he finds very personal — making sure children get fed breakfast before school. He was at a Chicago-area school last week to help promote the effort.

“We just want to raise awareness that one in every five kids may go to school hungry in the morning, and to try and change that we want to try and provide 1 billion servings of cereal and snacks by the end of 2016 and a million breakfasts by the end of 2015,” Butler said of the Kellogg’s Give a Child Breakfast campaign.

That campaign and Butler could get more of a spotlight if Butler and the Bulls can put together a playoff run.

But that involves the Bulls getting back to who they are.