Chicago Bulls

Jimmy Butler embraces heavy workload with rotation regulars out

Jimmy Butler always has carried a heavy workload and entered Wednesday tied for eighth in the NBA at 36.2 minutes per game.

But Butler’s heavy lifting has increased lately as the Bulls battle injuries to Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams and inconsistent bench production. Three of his five 40-minute games have come in the last five.

“Right now, we have to ride him,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

Butler shrugged, just like he always has when it comes to playing time.

“I have to keep up this pace. That’s what my team needs me to do,” he said. “I have to continue to produce and probably play a little bit better. That’s the way my mindset is. Get in the gym, make some shots and watch some film. Do a little bit more to put us in position to win.”

Familiar face: Pau Gasol returns to the United Center on Thursday averaging career-lows in scoring average at 11.4 points and minutes at 26 per game. But the former Bull still has played well for the Spurs, averaging 7.4 rebounds.

“It’s all about winning,” Gasol said.

Beleaguered bunch: The bench, still minus McDermott and Carter-Williams, produced just 11 points against the Pistons. That’s the 11th straight game it has been outscored by opponents.

“This is a basketball team. So what if they’re in a slump?” Butler said. “I’m pretty sure sometime soon the starters are going to be in a slump. I guarantee they’re going to shoot their way out of it because we need them to stay aggressive.”

McDermott could return Thursday. R.J. Hunter, Paul Zipser and McDermott were recalled from the Windy City Bulls on Wednesday.

Hoiberg said Cristiano Felicio jumped Bobby Portis in the rotation for the matchup against the Pistons’ Aron Baynes.

“I thought Cris gave us some solid minutes. Defensively, he was terrific,” Hoiberg said. “He obviously got tired, being his first real minutes in a long time.”

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